Twitter, Facebook are part of new terror alert system

National Terrorism Alert System replaces former color-coded alerts

The Homeland Security Department is replacing its color-coded alert system with the new National Terrorism Advisory System that will distribute alerts not only through traditional law enforcement and news media channels but also through social media.

As part of that new distribution system, DHS set up a new Twitter account Jan. 27 to carry the new alerts. The department’s new @NTASAlerts account on Twitter had sent no tweets yet and listed 299 subscribers earlier today. The department also plans to publicize the alerts on the DHS Facebook page and on a new dedicated DHS Web page for alerts.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, who announced the change Jan. 27, said the new two-tiered alert system will distribute targeted alerts about specific or credible terrorist threats. Depending on the nature of the threat, the alerts may be distributed to the public at large or they may be distributed in a limited fashion to the potentially targeted individuals, she said.

The threats will be labeled “imminent” or “elevated." Each alert will summarize the potential threat, describe the measures officials are taking and recommend steps for people to take.

The new system will replace the color-coded system developed by former Secretary Tom Ridge in 2002 shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks. In that system, red, orange, yellow and green signaled current threat conditions nationally or for airports. Napolitano said the former system often was unspecific and lacked practical information.

“In its place, we will implement a new system that is built on a clear and simple premise: When a threat develops that could impact you, the public – we will tell you," Napolitano said in her announcement. "We will provide whatever information we can so you know how to protect yourselves, your families and your communities."

A 90-day trial implementation period for the new system began Jan. 27. The old color-coded system will remain in effect during the transition.

The new terror alert system was developed by a bipartisan task force led by Fran Townsend, former assistant to President George W. Bush for Homeland Security, and Judge William Webster, former director of the FBI and CIA. The task force also included law enforcement officials and former mayors and governors.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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