Goodbye, Threat Levels

Hear that?  It’s the sound of inevitability, the sound of a foregone conclusion.  The sound of the Department of Homeland Security ending their color-coded threat levels.

If you’re unfamiliar with the system, they were one of the many superfluous creations of the Unnecessary Department of Redundancies, er, DHS, in the wake of 9/11 to assure the populace that graphs were being made to ensure their safety.  The threat level is currently Bert, or Ernie if you’re flying.  Don’t even ask how blue got to be between yellow and green.

Perhaps I’m being overly derisive.  After all, there’s no inherent problem with using simple graphics to communicate important information.  I’m a huge fan of the health rating letters that local businesses have to display, for instance.

Except that this graphic is meaningless.  It not only does not, but cannot be used to communicate actual information.

In the first place, it’s impossible to make an accurate estimate of the likelihood of a terrorist attack.  It’s not like predicting how bad flu season is going to be–rare, catastrophic events are never going to pan out as predicted.  Some terrorist threats are serious, most are sound and fury, and there’s no reason that a real attack should come preceded by a warning.  At any rate, if Homeland Security did have the intelligence to accurately predict whether a terrorist attack would happen, hopefully they would just stop the attack rather than fiddling with alert levels.

But regardless of the accuracy of their intel, DHS could never set the alert level to anything other than orange or yellow.  If it were red, everyone would be freaking out and Homeland Security would appear incompetent.  Setting it to green or blue would be fine…unless something actually happened, in which case Homeland Security would, again, seem unprepared and incompetent.  No wonder the alert level hasn’t changed in four years.

And so I issue a happy farewell to threat levels.  I would like to think that this means Homeland Security will hereafter focus on creating actual security, rather than the appearance of security, but such a hope is chimerical.

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