Homeland threat system released
- By Diane Frank
- Mar 12, 2002
Homeland Security Advisory System
The Bush administration on March 12 released the Homeland Security Advisory
System, which defines five threat levels and provides a template for actions
that federal, state and local governments should take at each level.
Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, outlined the
"information-based" HSAS at an event for federal, state and local officials,
but did not release any details regarding the technology that could be used
to collect and disseminate the information.
The basic purpose of the system is to offer "a common vocabulary so
officials at all levels of government can communicate with" one another,
In addition to defining the level of threat, the system also outlines
the minimum suggested actions for agencies to take when at each color-coded
level (see "Homeland alert
"For every level of threat, there will be a level of preparedness,"
Ridge said. "For the first time, threat conditions will be coupled with
Right now the federal government has placed the country at "yellow,"
or elevated alert, he said.
The administration is requiring all federal agencies to align their
homeland security response plans with the HSAS levels, taking the system's
suggested actions as the minimum actions. "It is a floor, it is not a ceiling,"
The system is open for comments from other levels of government and
the public during the next 45 days. Many state and local government organizations
are already planning responses, and are concerned about the level of technology
available at the local level to receive alert information passed on by the
federal government (see
"Locals look to IT in homeland plan").
"The execution now is going to be the challenge," said Rock Regan, president
of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers and the
CIO of Connecticut.
Although the White House will not mandate that state and local agencies
follow the system, Ridge said he hopes they will use it as a baseline to
develop their own response plans.
"The states encouraged us to act; now they have a template to guide
their actions," he said.
The system will be run by the Justice Department, with the Attorney
General issuing all alerts after consultation with the Office of Homeland
Security and other pertinent federal agencies.
As information comes in from federal, state, local and private sector
sources, it will be weighed against several factors, including if it is
credible, if it can be corroborated, if it is a specific or imminent threat,
what the consequences would be, and if the threat can be deterred.
And state and local officials are an important part of the equation
when it comes to passing on the information that will lead to the alerts,
said Associate Attorney General Jay Stephens.
The consistent threat-level definitions will make it much easier for
federal agencies to work together to counter any potential terrorist attacks,
said Gale Norton, Interior secretary. Among other functions, Interior manages
the nation's national landmarks and parks, and oversees many international
borders, so the department must interact with agencies at all levels of
Working with those other agencies after Sept. 11, Norton said she found
they "had no common way to explain how we were preparing, or how we were
assessing" the threats.