Terror alert system on the way

Tom Ridge, head of the Office of Homeland Security, said the federal government would unveil a national alert system in a "couple of weeks" to better share intelligence information about possible acts of terrorism with states and territories.

The former Pennsylvania governor spoke at the National Governors Association's (www.nga.org) winter meeting in Washington, D.C., Feb. 24.

Ridge called the national alert system an "imperfect system" that will need improvement. He said the federal government will not mandate use of this system, and he asked for input from state and territorial governments. He asked the governors to take a look at it, compare it with their systems and make recommendations.

"That national system will have to be based on consent," he said.

The federal government has been working on a national system to better rank potential terrorist threats. State and local officials have criticized the warnings that have been issued since Sept. 11 because they contained no details of when and where such acts may occur.

California Gov. Gray Davis proposed a national four-stage alert system last year. But at the time, Ridge reportedly asked Davis to delay his proposal so that the federal government could work on a national model.

According to the NGA Web site, such an alert system would categorize credible threats as Stage 1, confirmed threats as Stage 2, confirmed threats on specific locations as Stage 3, and confirmed threats within a specific time frame as Stage 4. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has proposed a similar model.

"The challenge of processing and analyzing the bits and pieces of information that get before the intelligence community and FBI is more complex than these professionals get credit for," Ridge said. "They're doing a far better job today than on Sept. 11."

Ridge said assessing and corroborating information and then sharing it is not an easy task. It's a cultural challenge as well as a technological one, and the infrastructure is not yet set up to handle subjective analysis and dissemination of information.

"It's as much art as it is science," he said.

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