Ah, the Spring of 2002: the Good Old Days. It was in March of that year that Tom Ridge unveiled the color-coded terror alert system. Now a quick quiz: can you name all the levels and the colors associated with them? If you guessed that green equals good and red is bad, then give yourself two points and move on. For those interested in the continuum, it begins at a green "low," then a cool blue "guarded," followed by the ever-popular yellow "elevated," then a shocking orange for "high," and bringing it all home with a big red "severe."
Now, the Obama administration believes it could be time to rethink this system. Current Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a review of the process by which our government tells us how frightened we should be. The seventeen member panel that will look into this will include Democrats and Republicans, mayors, governors, police executives, and public and private security experts. Whatever happens, no one wants to give the appearance that we have somehow gone soft on terrorism.
But let's be honest for just a moment: It's not really the colors that are so ridiculous, is it? It's the semantics. I understand "low" means just a little, but those last three are all pretty much synonyms, aren't they? And what about "guarded?" Couldn't we just say blue is "paranoid," and why isn't there anything below "low?" This new administration has been calling for more transparency, why not have "none" be translucent?
If we have to keep the rainbow of panic, why not incorporate it into other realms outside of bombs and nerve gas. I think we all could have benefited from an orange alert a couple years ago on flexible mortgages, and I'm always feeling pretty yellow about Wednesday night TV. I guess what I'm suggesting is that if the idea is to cement in our minds a color with a condition, then it needs to be objective. Just ask Conan O'Brien: "Green means everything's okay. Red means we're in extreme danger. And champagne-fuchsia means we're being attacked by Martha Stewart."