Friday, October 30, 2009

Colors, Threats, the Bottom Line

In July of this year, the Obama Administration started considering the color-coded warning system available to the public. In the Cold War days, this was all Civil Defense. Civil Defense had two settings: on and off. During "off", which turned about to be nearly always, there was practice. The practice was more or less not useful, (hiding under a school desk would not save you from an H-bomb) but then I wasn't old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis personally.

I don't think the advisory system has any meaning. Over at Emergency Management, they're poking fun, suggesting fruit-bowl colors and "What, me worry?" This is a blog and company that presumably will make money over evaluating threats. A warning system is in his economic favor.

He's received a terse but glowering comment about not taxing Homeland Security with irrelevancies. Oh please. In the United States of America, we are Declarationally and Constitutionally suspicious of government cons. You don't have to be part of the Terrorist Love Society  or a retroactive Soviet to examine an expression of the government in these fifty states.

This one's not even a good con, because it's for public consumption, but has no bearing on public life. It signals no bridge closures, no airport protocol, no evacuation plan from a skyscraper or a warehouse. In the case of the airport, we've all figured out by now that we must not carry large containers of shampoo or nail files to the airport. It's a regulation, set in stone, but attaching it to a threat level gives it a temporary feel. But terrorism is not a temporary condition any more. Time to own up.

The closer you look at it, the more you see why military personnel say the public isn't involved in our wars or our anti-terrorism efforts. It's just all top-down or to the side.

What if we're "Code Amber" and we step up to "Code Red"? Somebody has to explain what the threat is to the public--or else lie. Do we want to give our forewarning away in advance? Do we actually change the color at an appropriate moment? I'm guessing not.

Should "threat elevation" accompany specific announcements or acts (e.g. Everybody who works in the Metropolitan Building of AnyTown, do not come to work, or, e.g. 2, All law enforcement personnel in AnyState wear Code Red armaments), or do our leaders expect us to swallow "Red means bad"  (a pun)? If we can't use it to make decisions or follow orders, what use is it?

What if we’re “Code Amber” and we step down to “Code Green” and something happens? What use is the color code when it doesn’t even cover ass?

It could be made functional, but not the way we use it now. Or, if it does serve a purpose, it does not serve the one advertised to the public at large.

Decide for yourself: Department of Homeland Security Threat Warning Page


Anonymous said...

When I was in the service, color code "threat-con's" were common. The difference then was that specific color codes came with specific tasks. I cant remember what went with what, but for example "orange" meant that cars were searched before entering post. Other restrictions or tasks went with each code. That at lest made the military version sensible. The civilian model is meaningless without the associated tasks.

Ann T. said...

Dear TG,
This is exactly what I think.

I think the threat code was used to slide regulations in as temporary when they are permanent, but enable politicians to back off if people cut up stiff (e.g., knitting needles on the plane are okay, but not nail files).

The role of the public in anti-terrorism was never clearly spelled out. Even now, I know very few urbanites who are prepared for even a power cut-off. The public's education on this is available but not pushed. It comes from this same early ambivalence.

After 9-11, we called those that died "heroes" when for the most part they were victims. By displacing "heroism", civilians operated under a meaningless construct for meeting the aftermath.

If I had been Karl Rove (TG I'm not) I would have asked the public to step up and be the heroes, to stand up for the victims, instead of turning to retail. I would have gone for something like the WWII model and not the Red-baiting model, and I would have strategized a political/press campaign for that.

I was in retail then and I never saw anything so senseless in my life (except the usual Xmas season). People were asked to play instead of work. The play did not take their mind off their anxieties, and we have been miscalculating ever since.

Just my opinion, but I have held it since 2002.

Thanks for writing in!
Ann T.