Rollover star ratings themselves remained controversial, as did the longer-established star ratings for crashworthiness in front and side impacts. The Transportation Research Board, as well as consumer groups and auto insurance associations, charged that star ratings gave consumers a falsely positive impression of safety, since one-star vehicles could have a 40 percent chance of rolling over, and that ratings diminished in usefulness when most vehicles earned four or five stars.
Disclosing Terrorism Threats to Improve Public Safety
Six months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration created a color-coded ranking system to inform the public about terrorist threats. The system’s stated purpose was “to provide a comprehensive and effective means of disseminating information regarding the risk of terrorist acts to Federal, State, and local authorities and to the American people” in order “to inform and facilitate decisions appropriate to different levels of government and to private citizens at home and at work.” The aim was to minimize attacks and their consequences. The system was designed to be flexible and information-based. It provided a framework for communicating the severity of national, local, or sector-specific threats as well as their likely character and timing.
The alert system established five color-coded levels of terrorist threat: green – low; blue – guarded; yellow – elevated; orange – high; red – severe . The presidential directive clearly contemplated that alerts would be accompanied by factual information.
The directive also made it clear that information was intended to create incentives for action. Each level of alert was meant to trigger threat-specific protective measures by government agencies, private organizations, and individuals. The directive provided that threat levels would reflect both the probability and the gravity of attack and would be reviewed at regular intervals to see if they should be adjusted. The level set was to be based on the degree to which a threat was credible, corroborated, imminent, and grave.
The system provided flexibility. Threat levels could be set for specific geographical areas or for specific industries or facilities. The system provided for case-by-case judgments about whether threat levels would be announced publicly or communicated in a more limited way to emergency officials and other selected audiences. The stated intent was to “share as much information regarding the threat as possible, consistent with the safety of the Nation.”
Once the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in March 2003, the secretary of homeland security was charged with responsibility for setting threat levels, with the advice of the Homeland Security Council.
Within the department, the warning system was administered by an undersecretary for information analysis and infrastructure protection.
As of early 2006, the terrorist threat warning level had been raised and lowered seven times, each time from yellow (elevated) to orange (high) and back again. The system gen- erally produced warnings that proved too vague to provide government officials, business managers, or ordinary citizens with incentives to take appropriate protective actions.
However, alerts were increasingly specific. On August 2, 2004, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning concerning three particular facilities: the Prudential building in Newark, New Jersey, and the headquarters of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C . On July 7, 2005, when several bombs were detonated in the London subway system, DHS raised the threat level