Homeland Security Alert System Revamped with 'Sesame Street' Characters

When you see Cookie Monster, run for the hills.

HE OFT-TEASED, color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System, launched shortly after the attacks of September 11, is being thoroughly revamped and will instead display a specific Sesame Street character designated for each alert level.

"Our color system was flawed from the get-go," said Rob Mason, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security. "With popular characters everyone recognizes, we now have a system that all Americans can understand at a glance. Even many of our enemies probably know who the Cookie Monster is," noted Mr. Mason, referring to the highest alert level in the new chart, which depicts the famous blue fuzzy monster about to devour the continental United States like a chocolate chip cookie.

Although the lowest alert level went easily to the bright and sunny Big Bird, other characters from the long-running public television children's show were not chosen without some controversy.

"It may appear to you a perfectly natural choice that Grover would be one level up from Big Bird, but there was actually quite a tug of war going on between him and Bert and Ernie," began Mr. Mason.

"We finally decided that Ernie's teasing of Bert along with his slightly wicked laugh signaled more aggression than Grover's gangly extroversion. We also felt that Bert and Ernie as a pair were better suited for our upcoming PSAs on what average Americans can do at home with duct tape to make us all safer."

The second-highest alert level goes to the ubiquitous and giggly Elmo, who, Mr. Mason argued, "represents the terrorist who laughs at your jokes and then turns around and stabs you right in the back. He's just a little too nice, if you know what I mean. That might be his orange belly jiggling, or maybe he's packing a bomb on his way to one of America's state fairs."

"Actually," admitted Mr. Mason, "Elmo was my choice for highest alert level, but my eight-year-old daughter wouldn't eat 'til I promised her it would be Cookie Monster instead. Kids."