The National Terrorism Advisory System replaced the Homeland Security Advisory System with a more direct approach that features specific bulletins and alerts in the form of bulletins and advisories:
- Bulletin: Describes current developments or general trends regarding threats of terrorism.
- Elevated Alert: Warns of a credible terrorism threat against the United States.
- Imminent Alert: Warns of a credible, specific and impending terrorism threat against the United States.
When there is specific, credible information about a terrorist threat against the United States, The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will share an NTAS Alert with the American public when circumstances warrant doing so. The Alert may include specific information, if available, about the nature of the threat, including the geographic region, mode of transportation, or critical infrastructure potentially affected by the threat, as well as steps that individuals and communities can take to protect themselves and help prevent, mitigate or respond to the threat.
This system, “recognizes that Americans all share responsibility for the nation’s security, and should always be aware of the heightened risk of terrorist attack in the United States”.
Private citizens are asked to help contribute to these alerts where appropriate; “Individuals should report suspicious activity to local law enforcement authorities. Often, local law enforcement and public safety officials will be best positioned to provide specific details on what indicators to look for and how to report suspicious activity”.
This, in cooperation with the “If You See Something, Say Something®” campaign, urges private citizens to report (but not act upon) indicators of potential terrorist activity.
The Homeland Security Advisory System
The Homeland Security Advisory System was created in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, the Pentagon, and elsewhere. The color-coded system was used starting on March 11, 2002 and was meant to show an overall threat level associated with the risk of terror attacks on American targets. It was announced by the Department of Homeland Security and Developed by the U.S. Attorney General.
The system was used starting in January of 2003. It consisted of the following threat level indicators:
- Green / Low risk
- Blue / General risk
- Yellow / Elevated risk
- Orange / High risk
- Red / Severe risk
A now-defunct official page published by Ready.gov listed a set of actions that Americans were to consider taking under each of these threat levels.
Green: Develop a family emergency plan. Create an “Emergency Supply Kit” for the household. Know how to shelter-in-place and how to turn off utilities to the home. Americans were urged to take an American Red Cross first aid or CPR course, or Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) course.
Blue: Take the steps recommended for level Green, plus other actions including taking an inventory of disaster supplies, being alert for suspicious activity, and report any such activities.
Yellow: Take all recommended steps at levels Blue and Green. Update all family emergency plans including contact information. Make sure the household disaster supply kit is ready. Create alternate routes and plans for going to work and school (an antiterrorism measure designed to make families harder to target).
Orange: Take all steps from lower levels. Add to those precautions paying attention to travel warnings or advisories in your area. Prepare for enforcement / terrorist prevention delays such as 100% ID checks, baggage searches, restrictions in public areas, etc. It is also recommended at this level to check on neighbors who might need help during a crisis.
Red: Take all previously recommended actions at lower levels. Stay tuned to local emergency channels and follow the instructions of public health and safety officials. Expect to shelter-in-place. You may also be ordered to evacuate, depending on circumstances. Expect heavy traffic and delays.
Controversy Over The Homeland Security Advisory System
One of the major complaints about the color-coded system involved the twofold problem of announcing a threat level without any specific data informing the change in threat, and a general feeling that issues or incidents resulting in changes in threat level were not made available to the public.
This had the effect of making the system seem arbitrary and adjustable based on the need to score certain political or enforcement goals.
One example of this happened in Georgia where protesters were forced to submit to metal detector searches. Local officials attempted to use the then-current threat level Yellow to justify those requirements.
But when challenged in court, the U.S Court of Appeals for the 11th District Court found that local officials applied the Homeland Security Advisory System as the justification for such searches after the fact.
Other complaints about the system include the notion that the color-coded system provided very little concrete information about specific threats. This weakness eventually led to the system being scrapped altogether in 2011. The Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced the replacement of The Homeland Security Advisory System in 2011.