William Drenttel | Essays

Threat Advisory Pandemic Alert System (TAPAS)

Last week, the London airline liquid-bomb threat elevated the Homeland Security Advisory System to red, the Severe Risk of Terrorist Attacks zone. This week we're back down two stages to Elevated Risk — or yellow. We have Tom Ridge to thank for this graphic innovation (he copyrighted the color-coded alert system back in 2001).

For now at least, the risk of a worldwide pandemic from the Avian Influenza A (H5N1) virus has been momentarily retired from active duty: it is, at least temporarily, off the front pages of our newspapers. Only this week, wild swans in Michigan (one is reminded of Yeats' "I have looked upon those brilliant creatures/And now my heart is sore") were infected with a strain of the bird flu virus. (Mercifully, it's not the highly pathogenic strain we all fear.) Meanwhile, towns across the globe are gearing up with their own preparations . . . even if it turns out that it's all China's fault.

What we lack is that one Tom Ridge-like bit of inspiration that would lend clarity to these confusing times. We took our cue not from the LifeSavers color palette that inspired Ridge's terror alerts, but from the magnificently illustrated oeuvre of a certain John James Audubon (1785-1851). Herewith, one option for Homeland Security. Yes, we know: it's for the birds.


National Bird Flu Alert Poster.

Threat Advisory Pandemic Alert System (TAPAS).

Design by William Drenttel, Jessica Helfand & Geoff Halber.

View image >>

Download PDF >>

Posted in: Media, Science , Technology

Comments [13]

I realize this is all in good fun... but I'll remark, nevertheless, that this rating system would cause a LOT of confusion: folks would think a FALCON alert meant that falcons were infected... and a FINCH alert would mean that I should take-down my bird feeders at once — because those finches were harbingers of doom.

Just a thought.
Silus Grok

I think the point is that the rediculous bird flu chart is just as rediculous as our "life saver" terror alerts. Neither one actually tells anyone anything.

That said, I'm hiding underground on the Day of the Egret.
J Tyler

If this really paralled the Advisory System then you'd be at Egret level before the disease even reached the US.

Very Good Mr. Drenttel,

I laughed my butt off.

And its funny, but Audubon was just profiled last week in Investor's Business Daily. He was the bastard son of a wealthy French landowner. Born in Haiti, no formal art training. ( And his name wasn't originally John James Audubon. He changed it when he got to the states. )

Here's a link to his Bio. Unfortunatly, no mention of the name change. You'll have to go to the library ... "gasp" ... and look up last weeks IBD to see their story.

By the way, Haiti's national bird is the Hispaniolan Trogon. ( Link image not drawn by Audubon to my knowledge. )

I hope its a "Finch Alert" the rest of the year.

Joe Moran

Simultaneously a lovely idea yet a spanking critique of the 'Terror Alert' system. We in Australia opted to use the US colour bar alert system for a while, and whether by default or design, the bird species you have choosen probably work for other countries, principalities or suburbs as well - should they choose to employ your model. We would probably opt for duck over goose, and I'd be pushing to have a drongo alert (read para 4) listed before the finch.
Andrew Haig

This simply rocks. Thanks for making my evening.

I've seen funny in design before. That is funny. Bravo.
Nate Voss

Perhaps a more useful exercise would be to design a better crisis management protocol. Relying on professional politicians to communicate effectively is tantamount to expecting a three-year-old to be able to drive a car
Antonin G.

With TAPAS we could have auditory signals as well.

When moving between threat levels Michael Chertoff could take a moment during the evening news to chortle out the call of the threat's corresponding bird: "We've downgraded to Crow. Repeat, The Department of Homeland Security under the direction of the President of the United States of America has downgraded the threat level to Crow... Caaa! Caaa!"

Geoff Halber is a rockstar!

I'd swear this picture actually shows Ron DeHaven flapping his wings.

Jessica Helfand

Is that falcon the size of a finch, or is the finch the size of a falcon? If it's the latter, I think the finch alert is far more threataning.

You're a bird.

No ... you're a bird.

No you are.

No ... you are.

etc. etc. etc, ...


p.s. Couldn't resist.
Joseph Moran

Jobs | July 23