Color-Coded Terror Alerts- Everyone Panic!

Did anyone ever really know what the heck that meant when airports broadcast the current threat level in the form of a color?

image source 
Kirsten Johnson, "Homeland Security Color-Coded Advisory System with sockpuppets"

I always snickered to myself, mainly because no-one ever bothered to explain the coding!  Very hush hush, we were just supposed to be 'on alert' and wander around guarding against who knows what. Not to get too political here, but sounds to me like fear-mongering. I like this description on wikipedia:
"Some critics worry that the absence of clearly defined, objective criteria has allowed the baseline threat level to be established as elevated (yellow), thus precluding the system from ever dropping down to low (green) or general (blue). This limits the communicative value and options of the system to the three highest values. As persons become habituated to the threat level being perpetually elevated, they are increasingly likely to pay less attention to warnings issued." (source)

According to the Homeland Security website, "Color-coded Threat Level System is used to communicate with public safety officials and the public at-large through a threat-based, color-coded system so that protective measures can be implemented to reduce the likelihood or impact of an attack."
Red, the highest level, meant “severe risk of terrorist attacks.” The lowest level, green, meant “low risk of terrorist attacks.” Between those were blue (guarded risk), yellow (significant) and orange (high). Frankly, orange just didn't seem like a threatening color to me. Blood red, maybe. Black, dark gray, yes.

So it was with no surprise that I recently read in the NYT that the Department of Homeland Security is doing away with the ubiquitous color coding.
 image source
How terrified should you be? Check the Terror Meter!

Our own IACC-NA president Amy Wax, says colors could be an effective part of a warning system if tied to specific action. “How are we going to take those instructions and apply it to our lives?” she said. “Are we going to go to the airport, or not go to the airport?” She said the agency’s use of “childish” primary colors like red, yellow and blue might have diluted the impact. “Purple, orange and magenta might create a sense of something that would get attention,” she said."(source)

A task force was assembled to discuss the new coding system. Calling for more transparency over threat information and “the complete absence of political interest in the decision process,” Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano's panel analyzed the options. No solid conclusions were determined, although the panel did discuss reducing the threat levels to traffic light red, yellow and green. (source)

I close with some light humor:

“The lowest level of threat is condition off-white, followed by cream, putty, bone and finally natural”- Darrell Hammond

“Champagne-fuchsia means we’re being attacked by Martha Stewart.”-Conan O’Brien

“They added a plaid in case we were ever attacked by Scotland.” -Jay Leno