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Volume 6, Issue 2                                    University of Houston

Nation carries on despite high terror alert

Christian Schmidt
Opinion Columnist

The Department of Homeland Security raised the level on its terror advisory system Sunday from an "elevated" yellow bar to "high," denoted by an orange color, as Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said he had information regarding possible imminent attacks on the United States.

Now people across the nation are busy saying "so what." The nation is bathed in a glow of orange light from the color-coded warning, but virtually nothing has changed. The millions of travelers are still heading home to visit family and friends.

Just what does an "orange" alert mean? Homeland Security doesn't explain its system in any detail: a High Condition is declared when there is a high risk of terrorist attacks. What does "high risk" entail? How is that different from "elevated" risk or "severe" risk?

Since there hasn't been a single major terrorist incident on American soil since the warning system was implemented in March 2002, it's hard to know what any of that means.

In the past 16 months, there have been four periods of orange alert. Each time the level was raised in response to intelligence that terrorist attacks were imminent. There were no attacks during any of the four periods.

What is the purpose of the warning system? To make people feel more safe? To make them feel more scared? To deter terrorist activity?

A cynic may say this system doesn't really do anything. Law enforcement officials don't need a national TV broadcast to tell them to be vigilant. Do federal marshals get lazy when the nation is at a "low" level? It seems the system doesn't do much of anything except scare U.S. citizens. It's a scary world out there. People need to be vigilant and careful all the time, not just when an orange alert is issued. This system doesn't help.

The increased alert will have an affect on travelers, as already long lines will no doubt get longer, more vehicles will be inspected and parking at airports and train stations will become more restricted and much more difficult. But most people probably won't even notice the difference.

We're at "orange" level? So what.

Schmidt, a senior English major who wishes everyone a safe and Merry Christmas with a Cougar victory, can be reached at

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