Terror alert program changed

Jill Dunn | February 04, 2011

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is replacing its five-color terrorist threat alert system with a two-level system expected to be implemented by May.

Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano announced discarding the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System and introduced the new National Terrorism Advisory System Jan. 27. A 2002 presidential directive created the color-coded alerts.

“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.

NTAS is expected to be more effective in “providing timely, detailed information to the public, government agencies, first responders, airports and other transportation hubs and the private sector,” according to a DHS statement.

The department and other federal entities will issue alerts, classified as imminent or elevated. It will identify the potential threat, explain public safety actions under way and recommend action for the public.

The new system will have end dates on the threat alerts, although the DHS may extend alerts if the situation warrants.

Sometimes, department officials will send alerts to law enforcement or affected private sector areas, such as shopping malls or hotels. Or they will issue warnings to official channels, the media and the NTAS webpage at www.dhs.gov/alerts.

DHS will expand the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program, she said. Further information was not immediately available on plans for the program, which credentials truckers and other workers requiring unescorted access to secure port areas. 

Over the last two years, the federal government and the military have recognized all of society needs engagement in thwarting terrorism, she said. A 1999-2009 study indicated more than 80 percent of U.S. terrorist plots failed because of observations from law enforcement or the public, she said.

Government entities no longer view the top risks that originate with people coming from abroad. An increasing number of U.S. citizens have been arrested on terror charges in the last two years, Napolitano said.

The department is expanding its “If You See Something, Say Something” and the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative campaigns. The first engages the public to report terrorism indicators and crime to transportation authorities and law enforcement.

The SAR initiative uses a standard process for law enforcement to identify and report suspicious activity so it can be shared nationally and analyzed. It is active in more than 24 states and cities.

Napolitano did not mention First Observer in her speech, funded by a $15.5 million DHS grant. As of September, the 2008 three-year grant had allowed 18,100 truckers to complete this trucking security training program. The program’s partners include the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and state trucking associations.