Me on Color-Coded Terrorist Threat Levels

I wrote an op-ed for on the demise of the color-coded terrorist theat level system. It’s nothing I haven’t said before, so I won’t reprint it here.

The best thing about the system was the jokes it inspired late-night comedians, and others, to make. In memoriam, people should post the funniest of those jokes here.

Posted on February 1, 2011 at 7:40 AM47 Comments


Andy Cunningham February 1, 2011 7:51 AM

This one has been doing the rounds for a while… No offence intended to any nationality.

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats
and have therefore raised their security level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.”

Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even
“A Bit Cross.” The English have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in
1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized
from “Tiresome” to “A Bloody Nuisance.” The last time the British issued a
“Bloody Nuisance” warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish

The Scots have raised their threat level from “Pissed Off” to “Let’s get the
Bastards.” They don’t have any other levels. This is the reason they have
been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror
alert level from “Run” to “Hide.” The only two higher levels in France are
“Collaborate” and “Surrender.” The rise was precipitated by a recent fire
that destroyed France ‘s white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the
country’s military capability.

Italy has increased the alert level from “Shout Loudly and Excitedly” to
“Elaborate Military Posturing.” Two more levels remain: “Ineffective Combat
Operations” and “Change Sides.”

The Germans have increased their alert state from “Disdainful Arrogance” to
“Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs.” They also have two higher
levels: “Invade a Neighbor” and “Lose.”

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat
they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels .

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy.
These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy
can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Australia , meanwhile, has raised its security level from “No worries” to
“She’ll be alright, Mate.” Three more escalation levels remain: “Crikey!”,
“I think we’ll need to cancel the barbie this weekend” and “The barbie is
cancelled.” So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final
escalation level.

Cody February 1, 2011 8:06 AM

I visited my city’s emergency response center. I was impressed, they had a conference table, four chairs and a TV (hey look, I have an emergency response center). The threat level on the white board was “kinda yellowish”.

BF Skinner February 1, 2011 8:40 AM

@Bruce “the jokes it inspired late-night comedians, and others, to make. ”

Oh great so it’s another ‘job murdering, job assasinating, job destroying, job killing, job decimating’ security change.

Poor late night comics. It’s not like there are a who lot of positions for them or that they can be retrained in useful work.

wiredog February 1, 2011 8:54 AM

I always liked Dave Barry’s take on Security Color Levels, here:

The Department of Homeland Insecurity responds by placing the nation on a Code Fuchsia Security Status (“Relatively High”).

The Department of Homeland Insecurity places the nation on a Code Magenta Security Status (“A Tad Higher Than Relatively High, but Not Totally High.”)

This decisive action enables the Department of Homeland Insecurity to ratchet the nation’s Color Code Security Status all the way down to Mauve (“Calm, but Tense”).

The Department of Homeland Insecurity decides to ratchet the nation’s Color Code Security Status up a notch to Key Lime (“Partly Cloudy”).

The nation’s Color Code Security Status is quickly raised to Maroon (“Dark Brownish Red”).

The nation’s Color Code Security Status is raised to Peach (“Viewer Discretion Advised”).

The nation’s Color Code Security Status is ratcheted up to its third-highest level, Burnt Umber (“Medium Rare”).

Reacting quickly, the Department of Homeland Insecurity produces, in mere hours, a new national Color Code Security Status: Tangerine (“Uh-Oh”).

The national Color Code Security Status is quickly bumped up to Jalapeno (“Everyone Down!”).

In response, the national Color Code Security Status is ratcheted up to its highest level, Traffic Cone Orange (“Yipes!”).

Clive Robinson February 1, 2011 8:59 AM

@ wirredog,

“The French Toast Alert System”

What is it about the US and renaming other countries breakfasts, I note it so upset the Scots they are still invading you over “oatmeal”…

My view is if you are going to use bread egg and milk to make something why not go the whole hog (or loaf) and make it in a large bowl with a half pound of raisins and some mace (man’s Nutmege) etc. In the UK we have been making “bread and butter pudding” since before Mrs Beaton wrote down the recipe 😉

kingsnake February 1, 2011 8:59 AM

The national mood ring is no more.

Btw, changing the name of the thing, or its constituent parts, does not change its nature.. (Like the nuns in parochial school changing out grades from A to F, to the, as they told us “ungraded system” of plusses, minuses checks and so on, which perfectly translated as, gee whiz, As and Bs). Anyway, it’s Shakespearean …

Clive Robinson February 1, 2011 9:08 AM

@ Andy Cunningham,

“These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy”

Hey does Drake know they are comming back into English waters?

Rumour has it that the Spanish have taken a leaf out of the Russian play book and all “spanish trawlers” are actually covert Spanish Navy ships secretly jaming French cordless phones.

David Thornley February 1, 2011 9:39 AM

@Clive: Which old Spanish navy?

There were plenty of Spanish ships of the line at Trafalgar, losing along with the French.

They sent most of their ships that actually worked to Manila or Cuba for the US to sink in 1898.

In the 1930s, they did it locally, although factions in the civil war did send out for ship-killing ability.

The Spanish Navy was pretty impressive in the Med in the 1500s, but Gian Andrea Doria was not necessarily the best admiral (what battle was that…Prevesa or something like that).

RSX February 1, 2011 9:47 AM

We discussed the color system in a few classes. Seems like everyone was putting it down, and it’s a shame the current system isn’t much better.

If I recall, Tom Ridge resigned because of a controversy over this system – They wanted to intentionally raise the level right before elections. That’s probably what the original purpose of it was. Ridge was, imho, one of the few decent people working there.

“National Mood Ring”, lol.

Dirk Praet February 1, 2011 10:28 AM

The Looney Toons variant:

Tazmanian Devil Red (formerly Severe) – It’s a Taz Attack!
Yosemitie Sam Orange (formerly High) – He’s got a six shooter and he’s after some “varmints”
Tweety Yellow (formerly Elevated) – “I tawt I taw a tewwowist”
Bugs Bunny Blue (formerly Guarded) – The “wascally wabbit” is worried that Elmer Fudd might be in the forest!
Marvin Martian Green (formerly Low) – “Oh goody!”

Shane February 1, 2011 10:40 AM


“Champagne-fuchsia means we’re being attacked by Martha Stewart!”

“Apparently red is the highest alert, and it means Dick Cheney is about to eat a mozzarella stick.”


“They added plaid in case we’re attacked by Scotland.”

“Yesterday the alert went from blue to pink; now half the country thinks we’re pregnant.”

I think SNL had a skit about them all being beige too, haha.

NobodySpecial February 1, 2011 10:44 AM

@David Thornley – in academic naval history the Battle of Trafalgar is more important as a Spanish defeat than a French one.

More Spanish capital ships were involved and sunk, along with many more senior officers. The French navy was back to pre-Trafalgar strength very quickly while it is arguable that it ended Spain’s history as a serious naval power.

Clive Robinson February 1, 2011 11:24 AM


I thought “Drake” (as in Sir Francis) would have given it away….

May be I should have mentioned Queen Elizabeth 😉

boog February 1, 2011 12:01 PM

I always enjoyed Ron White’s simplified threat level system:

  1. Find a helmet.

  2. Put on the damn helmet.

Tanuki February 1, 2011 12:47 PM

Here in the UK the old colour-coded gov’t alert-levels were known as the “BIKINI state” – on at least one occasion a “BIKINI state: TOPLESS” was signalled to a range of establishments.

Hugo February 1, 2011 12:59 PM

My idea of security threat levels:

GREEN: The government is not aware of any terrorist activity, so you can relax.
BLUE: There is a slight chance some terrorist might do something somewhere in this country, but we’re not sure. So, relax.
YELLOW: This is the threat level of an average day, so no reason to panic. You can relax.
ORANGE: The chance that you die from a car crash is still higher than the chance that the terrorist who wants to hurt this country kills you. So, why won’t you just relax?
RED: There is a chance that a terrorist attacks this country. But if we knew who, where and when, this level wouldn’t be necessary. So don’t take this too seriously and relax.

Petréa Mitchell February 1, 2011 2:07 PM


That appears to be the basic Sesame Street threat levels with some added Discordianism.

David February 1, 2011 3:27 PM

“The system has been at yellow for the past four years”

Hasn’t the level been at Orange? At least, that is what they continually announce at the airports…

BF Skinner February 1, 2011 3:50 PM

And they never used Mauve.
The universally recognized colour for danger.

What happened to red?

That’s just humans.

By everyone else’s standards, red’s camp.
Oh, the misunderstandings.
All those red alerts, all that dancing.

godel February 1, 2011 4:09 PM

No kidding, in preparation for category 5 cyclone Yasi in north Queenland, Australia (300kph winds, 500km across, eye 100km across) the main hospital in Brisbane has declared a”Code Brown”.

Seems like a higly appropriate colour under the circumstances.

NobodySpecial February 1, 2011 4:25 PM

The trouble with UK system was that it was a little compressed.

Bikini: no threat = put the kettle on

Bikini Alpha: non specific background threat = those IRA chappies are being a bit naughty

Amber: imminent attack this base = I say are those our tanks?

Red: attack in progress this base = Is that a mushroom cloud?

Dirk Praet February 1, 2011 5:49 PM

@ Sam

Slightly off-topic. If you want to stay current on what’s happening, tune into #ioerror on Twitter. Lots of retweets from different sources. If you wanna help, put up a Tor bridge or relay or write your provider to make available free dial-up access from Egypt.

Paul C. Bryan February 1, 2011 7:46 PM

“My daughter is learning her colors from the terrorist alert rainbow. She thinks Winnie the Pooh is a medium threat.”

Chris Rogers February 1, 2011 10:00 PM

I liked the SNL sketch with the guy portraying Tom Ridge showing off the new color-coded scheme: Off White, Cream, Putty, Bone and Natural.

Miz February 2, 2011 2:47 AM

There’s one I remember seeing years ago but can’t for the life of me find: the color-coded Donald Rumsfeld threat level. The Red Rumsfeld was captioned “Holy smoke, I’m gonna blow” or something like that. I don’t suppose anyone has a copy…?

BF Skinner February 3, 2011 5:26 PM

Just re-read the headline and I think I prefer it this way…”Meeeeee on Color-Coded Terrorist Threat Levels!”


Contracts February 4, 2011 4:04 PM

Lewis Black: “I thought the color told us what to wear each day and that way we could identify who the enemy was!”

Robert in San Diego February 5, 2011 10:27 AM

Humor is a great stress reliever. I wonder how many DHS sociologists were saying “the color code system is a useful tool for preparedness level notifications, but we REALLY want to see what Leno and Letterman do with it.”

Robert in San Diego February 5, 2011 10:32 AM

Dear Andy:

I think the British also went to “A Bloody Nuisance” back in 1665 or 1666, when they had some Dutch Marines raiding along the banks of the Thames, downstream from London. But I’ve had enough trouble with Brits who’ve been “miffed.” I DON’T want to see what they’re like when they’re “peeved.”

Dave February 6, 2011 1:37 AM

They sent most of their ships that actually worked to Manila or Cuba for the US to sink in 1898.

… at least the ones that hadn’t been sunk by Peru in the 1870s.

Mildly Mad Minnesotan March 17, 2013 10:14 PM

Here’s New Zealand’s threat levels

New Zealand has also raised its security levels – from “baaa” to “BAAAA!” Due to continuing defence cutbacks (the air force being a squadron of spotty teenagers flying paper aeroplanes and the navy some toy boats in the Prime Minister’s bath), New Zealand only has one more level of escalation, which is “Shut, I hope Austrulia will come end riscue us”. In the event of invasion, New Zealanders will be asked to gather together in a strategic defensive position, called Bondi.
It might be worth noting that New Zealand would be unable to raise an army as its soldiers are all currently deployed playing orcs in the upcoming Hobbit movie.

Big Mick November 18, 2013 8:36 AM

Irish Alert System:

Tis grand! Let’s have a pint.

Could be dodgey! Let’s have a pint.

THE WORLD IS FUCKED! Let’s have a pint.

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