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Three Things the new Homeland Security Advisory System Must Do

Color Code Homeland Security Advisory System to Retire...Well, maybe. 

The Department of Homeland Security is considering a retirement of that ridiculous color-coded threat assessment system. According to a number of mainstream media reports, this system which has been in place since 2002, is now out dated. You may recall that this threat level color code system was instituted by a Homeland Security Presidential Directive 3 (HSPD three) and has come under scrutiny and criticism ever since. So with this system gone, we have to ask; what will replace it.

My opinion is that we should take the entire color code style assessment system and replace it with the old “test pattern” that used to see when a TV station went off the air… for those of you that remember the days when television stations actually stopped broadcasting at night.

Why do I say that? Simply because no one paid attention to the color code system since its inception. Worse than that, often times the system was misleading and failed to provide any type of useful information to the public. But while we are bashing the terrorism threat color code system lets not forget that there are other systems that are equally ignored by the public like fire alarms and public alerting sirens. These other systems have a few things in common with the color code threat level system… that common thread is: irrelevance.

 And here is why I think the Homeland security advisory system is irrelevant: it does not do what it was designed to do… it never did. And worse, those other types of alerting systems suffer the same level of "ignore it and it will go away" attitude from the public.

 While we don't know what type of system (if any) will replace this color code terrorism threat thing, I do have an opinion as to what the next generation of threat alerting system should do:

First, any warning system should engage the public with meaningful intelligence and data.  The information the system provides has to make sense to the public and provide some type of concrete information.

Second, a warning system has to define an action. It has to underscore the level of preparedness that should be taken for each level of warning… it has to call us to action. Think about the last time you were in a public place in the fire alarm went off. Perhaps you've been in a restaurant when the fire alarm system activated. When in public, how often do you see people actually leave the location when the fire alarm goes off? Often times you'll see people continue about their business while the fire alarm rings. To be effective a warning system has to change behavior.

Third, an alerting system or warning system has to inform the public when to de-escalate or stand down from a threat. Unsubstantiated and prolonged periods of increased vigilance lead to sensory burn out and decrease the efficiency and effectiveness of future warnings. A warning system has to have a defined end point–just the opposite of telling people what to do when the threat level increases or the alarm goes off, we have to tell them what we want them to do when the threat has been relieved.

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