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Color-alert system for terror will end

The Obama administration announced Thursday that it will scrap the color-coded terror threat alert system that was put in place after Sept. 11, 2001, and that became a symbol of the nation's anxiety after the attacks.

In its place, the White House plans to introduce a new two-tiered warning system aimed at providing more specific information about emerging threats and appropriate ways to respond.

The change was announced by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano in a speech at George Washington University. It marks the demise of one of the signature, post-Sept. 11 initiatives of the George W. Bush administration.

The soon-to-be abandoned system was often criticized for raising anxiety more than awareness, and became routine fodder for the monologues of late-night talk show hosts.

"Today, we operate under the premise that individuals prepared to carry out terrorist acts might already be in the country, and could carry out further acts of terrorist violence with little or no warning," Napolitano said in the speech, which was billed as a homeland security companion to President Obama's State of the Union address.

The existing terror alert system, which has been in place since 2002, employs a band of colors -- green, blue, yellow, orange and red -- in a stoplight-like display meant to signal the nation's state of alert. Green indicates a low level and red a severe risk of attack.

The threat is currently set at yellow, or elevated, although officials set the threat to the airline sector at orange, meaning high.

But the fact that the main color hasn't been adjusted since 2006 is seen by some as a measure of how much the system has faded in relevance.

Napolitano said the five-color system will be phased out over the next 90 days, giving way to new alerts that will be categorized either as "imminent" or "elevated," and will contain "a concise summary of the potential threat, information about actions being taken to ensure public safety, and recommended steps that individuals and communities can take."

The alerts are to be issued as statements from the Homeland Security Department.

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