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Deciphering the Traffic Light Protocol (TLP)

Information Sharing Can Be Tricky Unless You Are Using Traffic Light Protocol (TLP)

During a crisis, information can come at us fast and furious and from all directions!  And because of our professional roles, some of this information could be sensitive and require permission to share. During Hurricane’s Harvey and Irma, I was grateful to have access to multiple sources of critical data ranging from national level alerts to regional/local impact statements.  For much of the event, emphasis was clearly on life saving measures and freely distributed. As recovery efforts were initiated I began to see more “sensitive” data that warranted closer inspection before sharing.   How was I able to ascertain what to share with others? That’s where the Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) creates order and confidence for those responsible for the integrity of information. Let’s take a closer look at the mechanics behind TLP.

Originating in the United Kingdom (UK), the Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) is a set of designations used to ensure information is shared with the proper audience in a controlled and trusted manner. It is designed to be intuitive and easily adoptable so that information sharing and collaboration isn’t hindered by the TLP process. Based upon (you got it …) a traffic light signal, TLP has four designations: red, amber, green and white. The diagram below breaks down the designations.

Definitions (Source: Department of Homeland Security) 

Looks simple enough, right?  For the most part – yes! Keep in mind the TLP does require a level of discipline and it should be noted that the source of the information is responsible for ensuring that the recipients of the data can understand and adhere to TLP designation guidelines.

A few things to remember:

  • You will need to educate your audience on the TLP rules shown above before you send your email.
  • The TLP designation should be in the subject line and body of the email. All designations must be in capital letters: TLP-RED, TLP-AMBER, TLP-GREEN, and TLP-WHITE.
  • TLP documents should indicate TLP color in the header and footer.
  • Should you want to distribute the information outside the designated approved guideline, you must contact the source (sender).

For more information on how to use the Traffic Light Protocol (TLP) for coalition member communications, feel free to reach out. Training and document templates are available.

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