Homeland threat system released

The Bush administration March 12 released the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS), which defines five terrorist threat levels and provides a template for actions that federal, state and local governments should take at each warning level.

Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, outlined the "information-based" system 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, Ridge said.

In addition to defining the level of threat, the system also outlines the minimum suggested actions for agencies to take at each color-coded level. For example, at the blue or guarded condition level, agencies would provide the public with necessary information. At the red or severe condition level, officials would close public and government buildings.

The administration is requiring all federal agencies to align their homeland security response plans with the HSAS levels, taking the system's suggested response as the minimum action. "It is a floor, it is not a ceiling," Ridge said.

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.

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.

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 Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton. 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 government.

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Threats Defined

Here are the five Homeland Security Advisory System threat levels announced by the Office of Homeland Security:

Green — Low risk of terrorist attacks

Blue — General risk of terrorist attacks

Yellow — Significant risk of terrorist attacks

Orange — High risk of terrorist attacks

Red — Severe risk of terrorist attacks

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