Threat Level Orange

I just got home from another business trip. I seem to be in the middle of another spat of business travel with all the requisite fun of airports, flights, taxis, rental cars and hotels.

As I drove to the airport for this trip I noted the electronic sign at the entrance of the airport proclaiming:

Threat Level Orange

I have to ask, what good is this? What in the world is this supposed to do to make my life better? Really. Let’s think about this. My reaction to the blazing orange threat level was essentially as follows:

  1. Is orange bad? What is really bad? Orange sounds horrible. Does this mean my plane is going to explode?

  2. What caused the threat level to be orange? Is there a global terrorism plot targeting the Minneapolis airport on the day I’m flying? Did some high school kid threaten to explode football stadiums?

  3. At what threat level do I not fly? Seriously. If this is supposed to inform me and make me more educated, when do I turn around and go home. Maybe orange? I’m going home, I don’t want to die.

  4. This is stupid.

So I’m back to the beginning, what is the point? Other than making me feel nervous, slightly anxious, remind me that if I’m lucky enough to win the lottery I might have a terrorist incident in the airport. The only real impact this blazing “Threat Level Orange” had on me was to reinforce a low level of fear that is propogated by a variety of government and non-government agencies.

I decided to visit the Department of Homeland Security website and find out what these levels really were. The image to the right is from the DHS website. I love the names. I’ve never, ever, seen green. That really makes sense after all, when are you ever safe. Someone may be stalking you right now, and yes, your plane may blow up. Be afraid, very afraid. Guarded is great. Blue doesn’t make intuitive sense to me on this scale, but I’ll leave that for now. Be guarded, don’t trust those strangers. Then there is the issue of the scale as a whole, is it really linear with these equal bands? It would seem to me that the way a scale like this should work, if it should even exist, is that from 0 to 60 it’s low. In essence, the vast majority of the time. And 61 to 80 is guarded. An exponential, not linear, scale.

Since I cannot determine any value provided to me from this wonderful service other than fear it just strikes me as very Orwellian. What better way to keep people under control than constantly remind them of things that are statistically irrelevant.


I just went to the DHS website and it looks like the threat level may now be yellow!

Or not? I love this graphic. The top says the threat level is ELEVATED (note the all caps, it’s important) and the yellow bar is highlighted. Then the text says it is HIGH. Turns out that they are just telling us that there is a “significant risk of terrorist attacks” in general, and that in the airlines there is a “high risk of terrorist attacks”. It’s confusing to say the least, but make sure you stay scared.

Watch out!

Jamie Thingelstad @jthingelstad

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