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Color-Coded Terrorist Threat Ratings
New system strives to make threat warnings more specific 
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• The US Office of Homeland Security

As a key part of its just-announced Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS), the U.S. Office of Homeland Security has developed a color-coded key to be used for for declaring terrorist "Threat Conditions" which can be applied nationally, regionally, by sector or to individually identified targets.

According to Director of Homeland Security Ridge, the Threat Condition reports will "help the government and citizens decide what action they take to help counter and respond to terrorist activity." Federal agencies will use the Threat Condition reports to implement what Gov. Ridge called, "appropriate Protective Measures." State and local officials will be asked to develop compatible response plans.

Assessing the Threat: Hoping to avoid the confusion caused by previous, non-specific terrorist threat warnings, the Threat Condition reports can be applied nationally, regionally, by sector or to individual potential targets. In addition, before a Threat Condition report  is issued, each threat will be assessed by top-level government security officials according to factors such as:

  • Is the threat credible?
  • Is the threat corroborated?
  • Is the threat specific and/or imminent?
  • How grave is the threat?

Sounding the Alarm: Whenever possible, state and local authorities will be notified in advance of national threat advisories. Public advisories and alerts will follow. Threat Condition reports can be issued to apply to the entire nation, limited geographic areas, or to specific targets, like power plants, dams, ports, etc. Changes and updates to Threat Condition reports will be issued as necessary.

Color-Coded Terrorism Threat Key: According to the Office of Homeland Security, "Threat Conditions characterize the risk of terrorist attack. Protective Measures are the steps that will be taken by government and the private sector to reduce vulnerabilities. The HSAS establishes five Threat Conditions with associated suggested Protective Measures:"

Green - Low Risk

Low risk of terrorist attacks. The following Protective Measures may be applied:

  • Refining and exercising preplanned Protective Measures

  • Ensuring personnel receive training on HSAS, departmental, or agency-specific Protective Measures; and

  • Regularly assessing facilities for vulnerabilities and taking measures to reduce them.

Blue - Guarded Condition

General risk of terrorist attack. In addition to the previously outlined Protective Measures, the following may be applied:

  • Checking communications with designated emergency response or command locations;
  • Reviewing and updating emergency response procedures; and
  • Providing the public with necessary information.

Yellow - Elevated Condition

Significant risk of terrorist attacks. In addition to the previously outlined Protective Measures, the following may be applied:

  • Increasing surveillance of critical locations;

  • Coordinating emergency plans with nearby jurisdictions;

  • Assessing further refinement of Protective Measures within the context of the current threat information; and

  • Implementing, as appropriate, contingency and emergency response plans.

Orange - High Condition

Orange High risk of terrorist attacks. In addition to the previously outlined Protective Measures, the following may be applied:

  • Coordinating necessary security efforts with armed forces or law enforcement agencies;

  • Taking additional precaution at public events;

  • Preparing to work at an alternate site or with a dispersed workforce; and Restricting access to essential personnel only.

Red - Severe Condition

Severe risk of terrorist attacks. In addition to the previously outlined Protective Measures, the following may be applied:

  • Assigning emergency response personnel and pre-positioning specially trained teams; Monitoring, redirecting or constraining transportation systems;

  • Closing public and government facilities; and

  • Increasing or redirecting personnel to address critical emergency needs.

Where are We Now? As of March 12, 2002, Gov. Ridge advised that the U.S. remained at Yellow-level alert, due to attempts by al Qaeda to reform in Afghanistan and the terror network's renewed training efforts. 

Ridge stated it might be years before the U.S. could be placed on Green, or low risk status.

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