The Colors of Homeland Security

Are you afraid of terrorism? Were you? Are you anymore? Should you be?

From the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, do you remember the “rainbow” of homeland security?” How have we been “educated” to prepare for a homeland security emergencies? Let’s take a look at where we’ve been and where we are …

First, in an attempt to do something after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United Stated Government (USG) introduced the “Homeland Security Advisory System” or HSAS. The HSAS was introduced on March 12, 2002 with the first “security color” identified as yellow, and “elevated,” and “significant risk of terrorist attack.” The HSAS was implemented when President George W. Bush signed Homeland Security Presidential Directive 3 (HSPD #3).

Established in those heady, fear-filled days before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established on November 25, 2002, five (5) colors and their associated phrases were supposed to provide us with a warning for the possibility of terrorist attacks in the United States. The colors, words, and phrases were as follows:

· Red — Severe — Severe Risk of Terrorist Attack

· Orange — High — High Risk of Terrorist Attack

· Yellow — Elevated — Significant Risk of Terrorist Attack

· Blue — Guarded — General Risk of Terrorist Attack

· Green — Low — Low Risk of Terrorist Attack

Here is the chart that was distributed to help us remember the terrorist threat level we were faced with:

The “original” terrorism warning poster.

Unfortunately, this information did little to alleviate the fear of the American people and caused local and state governments to implement a number of policies at great cost. Increased security patrols. Overtime. Barriers. Sometimes for weeks, even months! Where those costs justified? The average American citizen did not know what to expect because so much of the information was classified. We were only provided a limited amount of “facts.” Did you feel safer?

Do you remember hearing that “the HSAS has been raised because there has been increased “chatter” from terrorist groups? What the hell did that mean? What should I do? What did you do?

Not surprisingly, the HSAS was mocked. Here are some examples –

Run (fun?) and hide!
A little help from Sesame Street.
Guidance from the Obama administration.

From our friends at Saturday Night Live we heard this.

A Message from Tom Ridge
Tom Ridge
: Good evening. I’m Tom Ridge. Nearly six months ago, President Bush asked me to organize and lead a new federal agency, the Office of Homeland Security. Since that time, many of you have probably wondered just what this agency has been up to and what, if anything, we are doing to prevent terrorist attacks within our borders. Tonight, I’m proud to unveil my agency’s new weapon in the War on Terror: the Homeland Security advisory system. It’s a simple five level system, which uses color codes to indicate varying levels of terrorist threat. The lowest level of threat is condition OFF-WHITE, followed by CREAM, PUTTY, BONE and finally NATURAL. It is essential that every American learns to recognize and distinguish these colors. Failure to do so could cost you your life. For those who may have questions, an excellent guide will be found on page 74 of the spring J. Crew catalogue. Now, what precisely do these threat levels indicate? Condition OFF-WHITE, the lowest level, indicates a huge risk of terrorist attack. Next highest, condition CREAM: an immense risk of terrorist attack. Condition PUTTY: an enormous risk of terrorist attack. Condition BONE: a gigantic risk of terrorist attack. And finally, the most serious, condition NATURAL: an enormous risk of terrorist attack. Many of you probably noticed that in the preceding chart, we used the term “Enormous risk of terrorist attack” twice. This was a mistake we didn’t catch in time and we’re trying to fix it. So, there you have it. The Homeland Security advisory system. This took you six months, you might ask? Well, not exactly. We lost the first few weeks with moving back to D.C., finding office space, working out the phones, etc. Also, remember: I just missed being named Vice-President. Instead, I got this as a consolation prize. And you have to admit, it’s a pretty thankless job. So, perhaps in the first few months, there may have been some bitterness on my part that affected my job performance. But not anymore. Since Christmas, I have been totally happy and committed. One last point, at my request and effective immediately, the President has placed the nation on Condition TAUPE. More on that in the weeks and months ahead. Thank you, and “Live, from New York, it’s Saturday Night!

Check out a fun video clip from a Saturday Night Live –

And there were many other less-than-flattering portrayals …

We shouldn’t be surprised by this as humans are very creative and can find the humor, bureaucracy, wasted time, inconvenience, wasted tax money, and more in just about anything the USG does.

When the HSAS was dropped for the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS), the media responded with these perspectives –


The HSAS then changed to the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) on April 26, 2011. Did this alleviate your fear on terrorist attacks in the U.S.? Here’s what the NTAS is all about.

The DHS says that the NTAS “effectively communicates information about terrorist threats by providing timely, detailed information to the public, government agencies, first responders, airports and other transportation hubs, and the private sector.” The NTAS does this by using two “alerts” — the “Imminent Threat Alert” and the “Elevated Threat Alert.”

The Imminent Threat Alert includes the verbiage:

“Warns of a credible, specific, and impending terrorist threat against the United States.”

The Elevated Threat Alert, then: “Warns of a credible terrorist threat against the United States.”

Does that help? Have you even read or heard about this? Are you afraid of a terrorist attack in these United States … while traveling, … while using your computer, … while just living?

Although certainly less colorful than the HSAS, maybe the NTAS will be more practical.

Read the DHS’s NTAS explanatory information here -

and decrease your fear.

This message is brought to you by the homeland security professionals of Homeland InSecurity.

“Got Fear?”

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