Assessing the Usefulness of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Terrorism Advisory System

August 2004 (VOL. 22, NO. 2)

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This study reports the results of a national survey of 1,023 U.S. adults and their evaluations of the usefulness of the color-coded U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Advisory System. The study explores the relationships among information sources, risk perception, demographics, and preparedness behaviors within the context of the social amplification of risk. Half of the respondents (48.8%) rated the advisory system as useful and half (47.0%) rated it as not useful; however, far fewer respondents reporting having made any preparations for a future attack. Strong support was found for the social amplification of risk model with 87.1 percent of the respondents reporting that terrorism was an important problem and two thirds of those respondents reporting that news reports had influenced how important they believed the problem was. The findings also underscore that information sources were not of consequence for all respondents, and that it was the perceived utility of the advisory system, not risk perception, that impacted whether or not respondents made preparations.