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Story - Hyper-Red Regional Catastrophe Alert: near-certainty of immediate death, response level Wolf

Updated: Jan 26

The end of civilization was overseen by optimists who believed that proper preparation, an organized response to threats, and a well-informed public could hold chaos at bay forever. Like the band on the Titanic, who played on the deck as it sunk simply because they didn’t know what else to do, the world’s governments, faced with the subsidence of civilization itself, devised increasingly elaborate, and, in hindsight, futile methods of alerting the public to threats.

Church bells ringing in the middle of the night to signal a fire. Air-raid sirens blaring in Europe during WWII. Although ancient and crude by the technophilic standards of the 21st century, these alert systems may be considered among the last public alert systems that actually worked – they conveyed enough information about a threat to provide warning without confusion.

This is the story of the emergency alert systems that didn’t work, which is to say that it is the story of most of emergency alert systems devised in the 21st century. Like the story of the band playing on the Titanic as it sunk, it is a sad story of professionals doing their job under what we now know were hopeless conditions. This story begins in 2002 with the US’s Homeland Security Advisory System.

The United States government has raised the nation's threat level to our highest level of alert - Severe, or Red - U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, August 10, 2006

The US Department of Homeland Security devised a color-coded system to convey the level of threat facing the US public. Green and Blue indicated relatively low risk conditions, with Yellow, Orange and Red conveying an escalating threat level from elevated to severe.

A key problem with this color-coded Green, Blue, Yellow, Orange, Red system was that it was difficult to modify it to convey the risk of greater threats than were imagined when the color-coding scheme was developed. What color universally indicates a greater urgency than Red? The threat of crashing airliners and collapsing skyscrapers, while quite serious, cannot be compared to later threats the US faced. Should a 100 km2 spore cloud or the dispersal of dimethylcadmium throughout a metropolitan water supply, events that would kill millions, still rank the same Red rating as an ordinary car-bombing or mall attack?

The THREATCON system adopted in 2025 by the US Expeditionary Force in Cairo suffered the same problem. In the original system, THREATCON 5 indicated peaceful civil order while THREATCON 1, at the opposite end of the threat scale, warned of protracted urban combat. THREATCON 1, as a meaningful indicator of the current status of the city, was ultimately of little utility, since it could only indicate that there was at least one combat operation underway in the area. To decide whether to go to work or stay home, citizens of Cairo needed to know how many pitched battles were being fought that day, and how many combatant organizations were currently vying for power.

The Expeditionary Force HQ has raised the THREATCON level from 1 to -2 in response to the recognition of six new factions in the battlespace. - III MEF Civil Affairs Group (CAG) announcement, May 9, 2028
The Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the Cook County Emergency Operations Center, has issued a Hyper-Red Alert for Cook County and the surrounding areas. A Hyper-Red alert condition indicates protracted, large-scale unrest and/or destructive natural phenomena that cause widespread death. A Hyper-Red condition pre-authorizes use of lethal force in law enforcement actions. - Announcement on emergency.cook.gov, July 22, 2030

In the face of increasingly severe threats, many emergency management and security organizations straightforwardly added new alert levels to their original systems. The Expeditionary Force THREATCON system was enhanced with threat condition levels 0, -1, and -2. The US Department of Homeland Security added Hyper-Red to their alert system. Interpol invented three new shades of Red to augment its alert system, and added one new color as well:

  • Super-red – protracted, large-scale use of lethal force in enforcement actions

  • Mega-red – Multi-day lockdown of metropolitan area

  • Giga-red – Loss of social control, localized indiscriminate killing

  • Black – Authorities have ceded control of this zone. Rule of law suspended. All means of self-defense allowed.

Interpol’s system is historically noteworthy, in that, for the first time, an alert system included a Black alert – official acknowledgement that a threat exceeds the limits of a government’s power to protect its citizens.

DEEP-RED-4 Alert: An attack by a LETHAL DRONE SWARM is underway in the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore. Avoid the area. Remain indoors. Do not accept unexpected drone deliveries. - Alert issued by the Mid-Atlantic Threat Response Coordination Center, March 15, 2041

By the mid-2030s, many governments began to recognize that placing threats on a single spectrum of colors did little to tell citizenry how to respond to the specific threat. The new mid-century style of public alerting called for communication of both a severity level (still color coded) and information about the nature of the threat. Governments typically constructed pre-made lists of threat categories that could be used for formal alerting.

Initially, most threat category lists included only the “big 5” threat types: Conventional Kinetic, Biological, Radiological, Chemical, and Natural Disaster. As technology progressed and social decline worsened, these lists were expanded to include more and more categories of destructive act. A surviving emergency operation manual from the Japanese Ministry of Internal Order, dated October 2042, included over eight hundred distinct threat types in its alerting system, such as:

  • Malicious Override of Automated Vehicles

  • Weaponized Animal Population

  • Misinformation Attack against Public Safety Systems (do not believe information issued through this channel)

  • Large-scale Dispersal of Psychoactive Substances

  • Suicidal/Homicidal Religious Fervor

During this time period, most governments, like Japan’s, carefully curated their ever-growing encyclopedia of types of threats to public safety. Yet, despite all of the sad work of categorizing the ways humans had devised to harm and kill on a large scale, these elaborate taxonomies did little to prevent serious incidents or to or mitigate the damage they caused.

Each attack or incident of social unrest, it seemed, was unique and unforeseeable, and forced governments to grudgingly add a new entry into their official threat ontologies to represent, ex post facto, what had transpired. The official lists of threat categories eventually read like a depressing history of the events that authorities were unable to anticipate or prevent.

Ultimately, it was the insurance industry that led to the abandonment of these elaborate taxonomies of threats. By mid-century, the insurance industry acted as the financial shadow of the public safety sector. For every extremist attack, every cyber-influenced disaster, every incident of purposely sowed-chaos that unfolded, underwriters wrote new exclusions into insurance policies. A business could be insured against damage resulting from bio-hazards, but not from the acts of organizations driven by religious animus. Would damage from an attack by weaponized swarms of bees released by a narco-Christian organization be categories as a biological attack or a religion-influenced event?

Ultimately, the problem of deciding whether to pay trillions of dollars of insurance claims stemming from large-scale attacks fell to the government officials who were responsible for officially categorizing each incident. Lobbying and other pressures from insurance and industry groups was intense. Most governments threw up their hands at the problem of balancing the interests of the insurance industry versus the insured. In the face of these pressures, most security operations refused to take sides. Public alerts were ultimately drained of meaningful information and “Unknown” alerts were common:

This is a YELLOW level warning. An UNKNOWN threat may exist. Take necessary precautions. - Alert published by the Joint Wal-Mart/DoD Security Center, November 18, 2053

By the 2070s, a large percentage of the public had been directly affected by a large-scale attack or incident of social unrest. The relative sophistication of the global public towards security incidents led to calls for more detail in official security alerting. How likely was the event to occur? If it did occur, how severe would its effects be? How large an area was under threat? How large an area would be affected if the attack were to succeed?

Governmental security organizations updated their alert systems throughout the 2070s to include the additional threat details the public desired. Yet, most governments, still inexplicably fond of color-coded systems, produced Byzantine alerts that few, if any, could fully comprehend. This message, broadcast over Eastern Europe in 2085 during the third “King of Ducks” attack, was typical of security alerts issued in this period:

Emergency Alert Level RED, YELLOW, HYPER-RED, SUB-ORANGE. Take immediate action based on threat severity RED with YELLOW likelihood. This is a SUB-ORANGE-level area alert. HYPER-RED-level personal precautions are warranted. - Pan-Europe Anti-Terrorism Bureau alert, issued February 12, 2085

After-the-fact analysis suggest that the economic impacts of the confusion wrought by this alert outweighed the economic impact of the “King of Ducks” operation by a factor of twenty. Clearly, a less confusing method of conveying detailed threat information to the public was needed.

In 2092, nearly a century after it defined the original five-color Security Advisory System, the venerable US Department of Homeland Security adopted a threat alerting system that clearly conveyed important details of threats. The full alerting system is shown below:

  • Likelihood of the event: The likelihood is represented by a color-coded scale from Green à Hyper-Red. (The US DHS could never bring itself to fully abandon color-coded risk systems)

  • Size of the threatened area: local, regional, sub-global, global

  • The severity of the threat, should it occur: Tragedy, Disaster, Catastrophe, Calamity,

  • Likelihood of effects: Unlikely, Probable, Near-certainty

  • End state of effects: Injury, Eventual death, Immediate death,

  • Response: The US-DHS used an animal-analogy model to guide public response to the threat

  • Worm – Seek shelter underground

  • Sparrow – Flee affected area immediately

  • Tortoise – Gather belongings needed for an extended period of evacuation, then flee

  • Bear – Government response delayed; fight back against threats in immediate area

  • Wolf – no government response expected; self-organize to preserve life and avoid threat effects


Between 2092 and 2096, the US DHS issued twenty-six alerts based on this system. Although there were no signs that the alerting system itself produced confusion, the embattled and fractured United States was in too weak a position to be saved by a well-designed system of conveying threat information. By the time of The Overrun, the Department of Homeland Security had been shuttered with alerting authority passed to the privatized Federal Emergency Management Agency. The final alert was issued on April 4, 2096 in response to Democracy-cleansing operations from the Tri-Continent Coalition. Most historians consider the issuance of this final alert to be the official end of the Civilization 1.0.

Hyper-Red Regional Catastrophe Alert: near-certainty of immediate death, response level Wolf. - Final transmission from Federal Emergency Management Agency, Washington DC, April 4, 2096

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