--> Gill Blog: The Complications of Code Orange

Gill Blog

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The Complications of Code Orange

As predicted, Sunday's elevation of the Homeland security advisory system to code orange, has elevated chatter about playing politics to code red. While critics accuse the DHS (and by extention the administration) of crying wolf, Tom Ridge remained steadfast in his department's position, stating: "We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security". New information released Tuesday points to fresh evidence that prompted the elevation of threat levels.

The media frenzy surrounding these announcements is clearly out of hand, and in fact verging on the absurd. So out of hand in fact that the media now discusses the finer points of security-threat-issuing fashionware, as evidenced by this article appearing in the Washington Post discussing the overly casual appearance of officials in D.C. after the threat warning was elevated:
Mayor Anthony Williams arrived for his news conference in a gray sportcoat, black trousers and white polo shirt. He was not wearing a tie. He was flanked by Police Chief Charles Ramsey and Fire Chief Adrian Thompson, both of whom looked as though they'd come sprinting in from their back yards. Ramsey was wearing a striped polo shirt and a Gonzaga lanyard. Thompson wore a Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and sandals...Alone, Williams' casual attire was polished and professional...But the men flanking him were so startlingly informal that the overall impression was not of a fast-acting crew, but of one that had been caught off guard. It was as though the dinner guests arrived to find the hosts with wet hair and uncooked hors d'oeuvres. Their informal appearance did not reflect the seriousness of the message or the level of their preparedness. They lacked the benefit of symbolism's power.
The reason for the uproar is directly tied to one critical factor: the economic impact of increasing threat warnings. Whenever these levels are elevated, the flow of work (especially getting to work) is slowed to a snail's pace. The costs associated with beefing up security with extra bodies, cordoning off city streets and conducting thorough spot checks of every person walking into a secure zone must be substantial, as demonstrated here:
Authorities banned commercial traffic from using the Holland Tunnel to travel from New Jersey into Lower Manhattan, and rerouted it to the Lincoln Tunnel and George Washington Bridge, which cross the Hudson River farther north of the financial district...As part of the increased security, police around the U.S. Capitol have begun inspecting every car that drives by the Capitol and its office buildings.
The impact on tourism, especialy in places like New York of D.C. - centers that heavily rely on summer tourism dollars - is also signficant. Given these factors, it ususally comes down to the old principles of cost-benefit analysis - to elevate (and pay the piper) or not to elevate (keep everyone in a state of splendid ignorance).

Lost in the discussion this week, however, was the whole issue of our continued reliance on the location-based work model, where employers and employees alike still operate under the belief that the only place working affairs can be conducted are in the cubicles of offices. Secretary Ridge yesterday commended those who showed up for work, a statement suggesting there were many who chose not to come to work - again, another economic impact of code orange, as well as another anecdote pointing to the inevitability of a distributed workforce. Workplace Continuity seems to be looming on the not too distant horizon.


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