Homeland Security chief announces end of color-coded threat alerts

This story has been updated.

The Homeland Security Department will scrap the nation's color-coded threat advisory system for what it is calling a simpler, common-sense process to distribute information about security threats.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced during a speech in Washington on Thursday that the new notification system will go into effect at the end of April.

National Journal obtained a document summarizing the changes.

It has been clear for some time that the Obama administration was going to eliminate the existing alert system, which uses five colors to convey threat levels. The system has been roundly criticized for being confusing and too vague.

Indeed, the administration has never changed the color levels, not even when the State Department issued an alert for people traveling to Europe last year.

"In its place, DHS will implement a new system that is built on a clear and simple premise: When a threat develops that could impact the public, we will tell you. We will provide whatever information we can so you know how to protect yourselves, your families, and your communities," the document stated.

News of the demise of the system was greeted with praise by House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y.

"Though the system served a valuable purpose in the terrible days and months following the terrorist attacks of September 11, it was clearly time for the current color-coded system to be replaced with a more targeted system," he said. "It sounds to me like the changes they are proposing make sense."

Notifications and threat information may only be distributed to a particular audience, such as law-enforcement agencies or hotels, depending on the security situation, Napolitano said on Thursday.

If information needs to be more broadly distributed to the public, the department might do so through a statement via news outlets or social media, according to the document.

"This means that the days are numbered for the automated recordings at airports, and announcements about a color code level that were, too often, accompanied by little practical information," the document reads.

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