Panel recommends US keep some color-coded alerts
By Eileen Sullivan
WASHINGTON — A special task force recommended Tuesday that should the Obama administration keep color-coded terror alerts, the number of colors and levels of risk should be reduced from five to three.
The recommendations resulted from a 60-day bipartisan review of the often-ridiculed color-coded terror alert system.
The task force was divided whether the colors should be eliminated, but all agreed that if the administration does choose to keep the colors, there should be only three tiers, said Fran Townsend, former homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush. Townsend, who co-chaired the task force, explained the recommendations during a teleconference Tuesday.
The color-coded terrorism advisories have long been derided by late-night TV comics and portrayed by some Democrats as a tool for Bush administration political manipulation.
Under the current system, green, at the bottom, signals a low danger of attack; blue signals a general risk; yellow, a significant risk; orange, a high risk; and red, at the top, warns of a severe threat. It was put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and was designed to help emergency responders prepare. The national threat level never has been below the third one, yellow: an elevated or significant risk of terror attack.
"There should be a focus on lowering the alert status," Townsend said.
The task force recommended that the lowest level be "guarded." The task force did not disclose during the teleconference Tuesday what it thought the other two levels should be called, or what colors should go with any of the proposed three levels.
In its 17-page report, the task force suggested the administration use these tiers:
_Yellow or guarded: constant state of vigilance to protect against a terrorist attack.
_Orange or elevated: increased protective measures based on specific threat information regarding a known or suspected terrorist plot.
_Red or high alert: maximum protective measures to protect against an imminent or current terrorist attack.
Some members of the task force argued for scrapping the system altogether, but that move could prove complicated because many local governments have policies and procedures triggered when the federal government changes the alert level.
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