Saturday, February 5, 2011

Retirement Issues - Neighborhood Security Alerts

The Homeland Security Advisory System of color-coded terrorism alerts will be replaced in a few months. The old system had five levels, with the highest being red (severe.) Many of you don’t even know what the lowest colors are, since we’ve been on a constant level three (yellow, or elevated) or occasionally higher ever since the system was put into place. [The bottom levels are green (low) and blue (guarded), by the way.]

We’re promised that the new “formal” alerts will be issued only when there is a specific threat, that they’ll include steps authorities are taking and what the public can do, and that they’ll have a specified end date. Can’t wait.

No really, I don’t think we can wait for this new system to take shape and for all the bugs and hiccups to be shaken out. We need a new system right now and I have it all figured out. My system is designed specifically for residential neighborhoods—retirement communities in particular. It’s based on the neighborhood watch programs that are already in place to deter crime, but it’s more nuanced.

Like the original Homeland Security Advisory System, my Neighborhood Security Alerts have five levels. The first is Be Aware, and the street sign for this is a pair of eyes peering out from the darkness. When you see those eyes posted, keep your own wide open, looking for suspicious behavior in your neighborhood. At this threat level, simply letting the perpetrators know you are on to them should be enough to stifle their activity.

The second level is Be Alert, and its sign has a pair of ears, spread out like funnels to catch even the slightest noise that is out of the ordinary. This sign tells you to tune in to every conversation in every neighbor’s yard. For best results, get a compact recording device and hold it in prominent view. That should serve as a deterrent to anyone plotting to overthrow those in power. Even if not, it will help you provide useful testimony in court, just before you enter the witness protection program.

Level three is Watch Closely, with a pair of binoculars on the signage. When you see this, go out of your way to inspect your neighbors’ yards and look through their curtainless windows in search of questionable activity. Don’t be shy about it. As a member of the Neighborhood Security Alert team, you are empowered to engage in all sorts of despicable behavior. Don’t waste that opportunity. You'd be surprised what goes on behind those closed doors. (Or maybe you wouldn't be...)

Next—and the second highest level—is Be Nosy, and of course the sign has a very large proboscis. Yes, I am actually giving you permission to be nosy and to pry into your neighbor’s most secretive business. Use any means necessary to sniff it out. Keep in mind that even the most innocent seeming octogenarian can be plotting mayhem of immense proportions. You could be your community’s last defense against anarchy. You could also be in big demand at cocktail parties, where you will of course share all the lurid details you’ve uncovered.

Finally, the highest level is Busybody, symbolized by a buzzing electronic listening device. When the threat reaches this level, you are expected to invest in whatever equipment is needed to invade the privacy and disrupt the lives of any and all members of your community. Wear your busybodyness like a hero’s badge. That is what you will be when you take down the terrorist cell that settled into the nondescript split level at the end of Canterbury Court. Absent that, you’ll be the cool techy geek who always has the latest toys.

So there you have it: Aware, Alert, Watch, Nosy, Busybody. The perfect progression of attentiveness to assure that someone in your neighborhood knows exactly what’s going on where, when the threat level is seriously elevated. In many retirement communities, there’s already at least one person who does that. I’m simply proposing that we put those proclivities to good use.

I’m confident this system will be as effective as the color-coded one that Homeland Security is jettisoning. As for how it will compare to the new one they’re planning… we’ll just have to wait and see. It is the federal government, after all.

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