Fate of threat advisory system remains unclear

Bill that would require security alerts to be targeted to specific regions or economic interests has not made much headway.

A move to revamp the much-maligned homeland security color code system that signals the degree of terrorist threats remains in doubt.

The House Homeland Security Intelligence Subcommittee approved a measure last month banning color coding to designate security threats. The bill would overhaul the dissemination system to require specific advisories and alerts regarding any threat and protective measures to counteract them.

Wherever possible, the bill by Reps. Rob Simmons, R-Conn., and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., would require alerts to be targeted to specific regions or economic entities such as financial institutions or businesses.

The full Homeland Security Committee has not scheduled a markup for the measure. A source on the committee said the panel is preoccupied with port security legislation. The bill has not moved in the Senate.

A year ago, the House passed a homeland security reauthorization bill that included a provision revising the color-coding scheme, but it died in the Senate.

With a crowded Senate agenda this session, it is unclear whether such legislation could move in that chamber if the House approves major changes.

In effect for four years, the system of five colors to measure the severity of terrorist threat against the United States has been criticized as imprecise. A Government Accountability Office survey of 28 federal agencies and 56 states and territories generally found there was not enough specific threat information and guidance, hindering the ability to respond properly with protective measures.

Security expert David Heyman, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the color codes "as a concept are useful."

But he said raising awareness of threats would be more useful if there was more specificity.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said last year before the hurricane disasters that "we're looking at this and we're currently examining the system to see whether it can be improved."

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