Proposed Law Would Make Color-Coded Threat Level Indicator Optional

WASHINGTON (AP) - The color-coded terror alert system that signals national threat levels in the United States would become optional under proposed legislation to set the Homeland Security Department's priorities for next year.

The bill, to be considered Wednesday by the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, says the color-coded system is too vague, its threat warnings too broad. It recommends 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 obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Authorization bills generally lay out the policies and priorities for federal agencies.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has said he is considering changes to the color-coded system, which was fodder for jokes on late-night talk shows when it was introduced in 2002, seven months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States.

As recently as Monday, however, Chertoff denied suggestions he would scrap the system outright. He said in a television interview: "The warning system is important not only for the public but the responders and state and local governments."

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.