Napolitano Announces New Terror Alert System, Acknowledges Public's Role in Preventing Attacks
Unlike the old system, the new terror advisory system acknowledges the role all Americans play in keeping the country safe.
The days are numbered for the nation's stoplight-like terror alert system.
During her state of homeland security address yesterday at George Washington University, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano officially announced the retirement of the old color-coded terrorism advisory system and began implementation of a new, more specific system that will be in place nationwide by the end of April.
The system will be built upon "a clear and simple premise," she said. "When a threat develops that could impact you – the public – we will tell you. We will provide whatever information we can so you know how to protect yourselves, your families, and your communities."
Instead of five color-coded threat levels, the terrorism advisory system will now come with only two threat levels: "imminent" or "elevated." When an alert is issued, it will come with a concise summary of the threat, what authorities are doing to combat it, and public safety recommendations. Sometimes the alerts will only be sent to a particular audience, like law enforcement or malls. At other times the alerts will be sent to the American people, with DHS relying on media and social networking to get the word out.
The new alerts, unlike the old advisory system, will also have a beginning and an end. Critics, including the Homeland Security Advisory Council , pummeled the old system for perpetually leaving the country on elevated alert, which the public gradually began to ignore and led to wasteful security spending. According to the Associate Press, the color-coded threat level has not changed since 2006 , even though DHS has implemented security policy and technology changes since that time in response to terrorist threats, most notably full body scanners and enhanced pat-downs.
“The old color coded system taught Americans to be scared, not prepared," Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee said in a statement anticipating the announcement . "Each and every time the threat level was raised, very rarely did the public know the reason, how to proceed, or for how long to be on alert."
Summarizing the new approach, Napolitano said: "The alerts will be specific to the threat. They may recommend certain actions, or suggest looking for specific suspicious behavior. And they will have a specified end date."
One of the primary reasons behind the transition to the new advisory system, Napolitano said, is the realization that government does not have a monopoly on security.
"[O]ver the last two years, our approach has acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security – indeed, the whole Federal government and the military – cannot, itself, deliver security," she said. "Real security requires the engagement of our entire society, with government, law enforcement, the private sector, and the public all playing their respective roles."
Over the past two years, civilians have played an important role in preventing terrorist attacks. During the failed Christmas Day attack of 2009, it was a Dutch passenger who tackled and restrained underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Then in May 2010, it was an alert street vendor who notified police of Faisal Shahzad's smoking SUV just off Times Square in New York City.
Napolitano calls this security philosophy a "whole of nation" approach. "That is why I like to say that 'homeland security starts with hometown security ,'" she said.
In an effort to keep the public informed, DHS has continued its embrace of social media. Concerned citizens can follow the National Terrorism Advisory System on its own Webpage , Facebook , and Twitter .
♦ Photo by ProComKelly/Flickr