WASHINGTON – The color-coded terror alert (search) system that signals national threat levels would become optional under proposed legislation that sets the Homeland Security Department's priorities for next year.
The bill, which will be considered Wednesday by the House Homeland Security Committee, says the color-coded system is too vague and the threat warnings too broad. It calls for other methods to communicate threat information to the public.
"The public discounts the importance of the system, and even law enforcement professionals and emergency response personnel have deprecated it for vagueness and for lacking associated guidance," according to a draft copy of the proposed Homeland Security Authorization Act (search) obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.
Authorization bills generally lay out the policies and priorities for federal agencies.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (search) has said he is considering changes to the color-coded threat system that was fodder for jokes on late-night talk shows when it was introduced.
But as recently as Monday, he denied suggestions he would scrap it outright, telling NBC's "Today" show, "The warning system is important not only for the public but the responders and state and local governments."
"We want to engage all of the mechanisms to prepare when we have a warning situation," Chertoff said. "We want the public to be knowledgeable about what is going on, but not alarm them."
The legislation draft does not outline an alternative to the color-coded system other than to instruct Homeland Security to communicate more specific information that targets facilities, regions, states, local communities and private sector industries. It prioritizes warnings to specific regions and sectors, and requires response guidance for state and local officials.