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Chan Lowe: Junking the color-coded terror alert system


Most of us have almost forgotten about the infamous color code alert system, which was best known not for its effectiveness, but for its tendency to produce fear and confusion.

The original concept was well intentioned. It was dreamed up right after 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security hadn’t even printed up office stationery yet, and there was a need to demonstrate to the public that the government, specifically the Bush Administration, was doing something positive in the area of national protection.

What could be simpler, more visual, and more reassuring than a color code system? It was, in theory, easy to understand, and its graphic nature lent itself to television and Internet coverage.

The problem, of course, was that the chart was not accompanied by specific instructions on how we ought to conduct ourselves depending on the color of the day. Did a “high” alert mean that we were supposed to stock up on Velveeta and other non-perishables? Did “severe” mean we should apologize to everyone we had ever wronged and then blow the 401K and all our credit cards on a trip to the French Riviera? Or was it better to just sit and stew about it?

Worse, there were accusations that the system was being manipulated for crass political purposes, as alluded to in this cartoon.

It’s high time we said “good riddance” to this and other misbegotten schemes, like stocking up on duct tape and plastic film to protect us from biochemical attacks. The best protection is good intelligence and unflagging vigilance. Not perfect, by any means…but the best.

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Well Chan, who would have thought it could ever happen, but I agree with you! And I'll go one better. If we're going to say "“good riddance” to this and other misbegotten schemes" let's just admit that the Dept. of Homeland Security has been a colossal failure.

Let's abolish it and make it safe to go to the airport again.

Obama has the answer for an ineffective Department of Homeland Security; let's unionize all of those good folks. In a matter of just a couple of years we will be paying triple for half of the current workload and not be able to fire the incompetent. We will look back at the days of the Bush DHS as being the glory days.

@ Likely Voter---Found your mention of Homeland Security of interest..Michael Chertoff made meg-bucks hawking Body-Scanners for TSA.....
Fl. Con. John Mica (R) wants to privatize these Scanners & has done so at the Orlando air-port..(his district of course)
Der's money to be made in dem der hills....

Disagree with Chan for the first time, but on only one sentence: "The original concept was well intentioned." It was not. It was sinister from the get-go.

The blue and green colors were never, ever used, because they would not produce enough fear and panic to keep people voting Regressive republican.

And I remember very clearly that it was raised up a notch, to orange or red, a few days before the election of 2004. Very cynical indeed.

Hi Chan: this was again one brilliant cartoon-- your fans in Vienna Austria are always enjoying the, Best regards Karin


It seems nothing this President does is enough for some diehard Bush lovers. Who else is better suited for getting us out of the mess the Bush administration put us in. Think, we could have John (Bomb Iran) McCain as President.

What color is your hysteria?
We should abolish the gargantuan DHS boondoggle because it confuses the Tea Party

True, we don't need it anymore. We are in a state of constant emergency now.

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About the author
Chan LoweCHAN LOWE has been the Sun Sentinel’s first and only editorial cartoonist for the past twenty-six years. Before that, he worked as cartoonist and writer for the Oklahoma City Times and the Shawnee (OK) News-Star.

Chan went to school in New York City, Los Angeles, and the U.K., and graduated from Williams College in 1975 with a degree in Art History. He also spent a year at Stanford University as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.

His work has won numerous awards, including the Green Eyeshade Award and the National Press Foundation Berryman Award. He has also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His cartoons have won multiple first-place awards in all of the Florida state journalism contests, and The Lowe-Down blog, which he began in 2008, has won writing awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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