Napolitano Tosses Color Chart for More-Comprehensive Terror-Alert System

A new terrorism alert system will take the place next week of the color-coded advisories that have been used by the U.S. for the past eight years, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said today.

Under the new National Terrorism Advisory System, which will begin on April 26, the Homeland Security Department will coordinate with other federal entities to issue alerts, Napolitano said. Advisories will categorize threats as “elevated,” indicating a “credible” terrorist threat against the U.S., and “imminent,” warning of a “credible, specific and impending” threat.

Alerts may be sent to law enforcement, distributed to areas of the private sector that may be affected, or issued more broadly to the public through the department’s website, Facebook and Twitter. Advisories will be issued for a specific time frame and will automatically expire in two weeks, although they may be extended if a threat evolves or new information becomes available.

“There’s an ever-evolving threat both homegrown and international of terrorist activity,” Napolitano said at a press conference in New York’s Grand Central Terminal today. “These alerts are designed for when there is specific credible information where people need factual content in order to know what they need to do, how they protect their families and how they can help us protect their communities.”

Color Code Criticized

Napolitano announced in January that the U.S. had decided to abandon the color-coded terror-alert guide adopted by President George W. Bush’s administration following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The color code was criticized by lawmakers, security analysts and travelers as being too vague and was lampooned on comedy shows such as “Saturday Night Live.” New York representatives Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat, and Peter King, a Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said at today’s press conference that the new system is an upgrade.

“New York has always been terrorist target No. 1, so I always felt we were under either red or orange alert,” Maloney said. “This new program will tell New Yorkers and Americans what they need to know, when they need to know it and replaces the current color-coded system, which many people had basically tuned out because it never really ended and you didn’t really know what it meant.”

Alerts Fluctuated

During the eight years the system was implemented, the alerts fluctuated between yellow for “elevated” and orange for “high,” reaching red for “severe” once, on Aug. 10, 2006. The green or blue symbols, representing the lowest threat levels, were never used.

In that instance, the alert was applied to flights coming from the U.K. after discovery of what officials said was a well- advanced plan suggesting that al-Qaeda was plotting to use liquid explosives and detonators disguised as electronic devices to blow up jetliners in midair.

“Our whole goal is to maximize our ability to detect prevent and deter terrorism and minimize the likelihood that they will be successful,” Napolitano said. “Even given, as we have to be very frank and say, that there are no guarantees here. We cannot put America under a glass dome and prevent all damage from occurring but we can minimize the risks and maximize the information that we have.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Dolmetsch in New York at cdolmetsch@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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