Terrorism alert code leaves us a little blue

April 04, 2002|By Jill Jacobs

NEW YORK -- Midtown is feeling blue, while the Village is a little green.

If you head uptown, red could be the color du jour, while in Soho, yellow isn't so sunny.

No, I'm not a poet, just a New Yorker who prefers basic black, trying to make sense of it all.

Unveiled recently by homeland security czar Tom Ridge, the government's newly developed color-coded alert system was designed in part to satisfy complaints about the frequent issuing of vague and unspecific terror alerts, often rendering an already anxious public even more confused.

According to Mr. Ridge, "For every level of threat, there will be a level of preparedness."

Sounds simple, right?

The announcement that green, blue, yellow, orange and red were the chosen ones in this anti-terrorist color scheme was admittedly a bit of a letdown. Why not something more imaginative? More exotic?

They obviously forgot about forest green, teal blue, sunburst yellow, tangerine orange or wild ruby red, just a few of my personal favorites that would have made a real statement.

I guess they decided to tone it down.

The way the system is designed, different sections of New York City could actually experience different alert levels simultaneously. For example, you could be in the West Village on "orange" or "high alert," but downgraded to "blue" or "guarded alert" on the Upper East Side.

Confusing? It's not supposed to be.

Green represents "low" alert, so enjoy. Kick back. Take a load off.

Blue means a "general" risk of terrorist attack, or it's time to engage in a little nail-biting.

Yellow means an increased, "significant" risk of attack -- or in the words of Scooby Doo, "Ruh-roh!"

Orange means a "high risk" of terrorist attack, so feel free to skip gym, stay home from work indefinitely and pamper yourself.

Red indicates a "severe" alert or, as the 'NSYNC boys say, "Bye, Bye, Bye."

As with most new plans, the system isn't without flaws. For those Americans suffering colorblindness, common sense should prevail. For example, if you look out your apartment window and see scores of people running down the street screaming and crying, and it's not the New York City Marathon or a close-out sale of Martha Stewart's spring line at Kmart, I suggest you consider making alternate plans for the day.

So what do we do after being placed on alert? That's the part that's still unclear.

As with every new system, there is a period of trial and error, that time when you work out the kinks. That's why local agencies have been given 45 days to offer feedback and comments.

Should we try to coordinate an appropriate fashion mood to match the color alert level? Currently we're on "yellow alert." Does that mean we're all supposed to wear yellow? Because I've had my color chart done and I'm an autumn; I look better in earth tones. I hope this doesn't make me seem unpatriotic, because I'm not, but yellow makes me look all washed up.

Fortunately for us, Mr. Ridge isn't working solo on this, as he's joined forces with Attorney General John Ashcroft, who is overseeing the project.

Mr. Ashcroft, who incidentally is now performing double duty as the newly named "fashion czar," spends inordinate amounts of time tastefully clothing naked statues in Washington and across the country.

According to Mr. Ridge, the system isn't foolproof and "will not eliminate risk, as we face an enemy as ruthless and as cunning and as unpredictable as any we have ever faced."

But we can rest easy because he pledged "to bring every possible human and technological resource to the task of implementing this advisory system."

While Mr. Ridge remains hopeful at the prospect of the nation getting to green, or "low alert," he suggests that it will be years away. The United States, he says, faces the "permanent possibility" of terrorist attack.

I, on other hand, remain a bit more optimistic and suspect that we will all see "green" again. Perhaps as early as January 2005, during President George W. Bush's next inaugural address. Until then, you can find me uptown, a little blue.

Jill Jacobs is a free-lance writer who lives in New York.

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