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Homeland Security Introduces New Terror Alert System

Jenny Chen |
January 27, 2011 | 2:11 p.m. PST

Associate News Editor


Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (Creative Commons)
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (Creative Commons)
The Obama administration is doing away with color-coded terrorism alerts and replacing it with detailed descriptions about potential threats, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Thursday. 

Warnings will now be issued as soon as information about credible threats is available. The public will be given a summary of the threat and what steps they can take, in addition to what authorities are doing. 

“The new system reflects the reality that we must always be on alert and be ready,” Napolitano said in the prepared remarks for a Homeland Security address at George Washington University. “The alerts will be specific to the threat. They may recommend certain actions, or suggest looking for certain suspicious behavior. And they will have a specific end date.” 

The current terror alert system uses various colors to represent the nation’s security levels. The five-color system was established in 2002 in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. 

On the scale, green represents a “low” risk of attack and red a “severe” risk. National risk is currently set at yellow or “elevated” risk, but orange or “high” for airlines. 

This method of labeling national risk has been mocked largely by the public who were confused by its implications. The colors haven’t changed much since the system was put into use, reaching red just once in 2006 after British officials said they had discovered a plan to blow up jetliners. 

Napolitano said a “90-day implementation period” would start on Thursday to begin the transition into the new system called the National Terrorism Advisory System.  

“This means that the days are numbered for the automated recordings at airports, and announcements about a color code level that were, too often, accompanied by little practical information,” Napolitano said. 

The new two-tier system will put warnings either as an “imminent threat” or “elevated threat.” Alerts and plans of action will be tailored to the specifics of each threat. 

Homeland Security’s is putting a greater focus on potential terrorists within U.S borders, especially after an increase in arrests of U.S. residents within the last two years.

 “We must all work to gain a better understanding of the behaviors, tactics, and other indicators that could point to terrorist activity,” Napolitano said. 

Reach reporter Jenny Chen here.
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