News / USA

Obama Administration Engages Public on Terror Alert System

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (l), and NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, listen as Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano speaks during a news conference in New York, April 20, 2011
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (l), and NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, listen as Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano speaks during a news conference in New York, April 20, 2011
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Peter Fedynsky

The United States is adopting a new terror alert system to replace the color-coded one put into place after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.  Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made the announcement Wednesday in New York’s Grand Central railway station.  The new system is set to go into effect on April 26.

Secretary Napolitano told reporters that most Americans have ignored current alert system, while some have lived in fear because of it.

"We don’t want people to live in fear; we want people to live in a state of alertness and awareness," said Secretary Napolitano. "And we want people to know how they can help themselves, how they can assist their community.  One way to do that is to provide people with more information."

Napolitano noted that the new National Threat Advisory System minimizes, but does not eliminate, the risk of terrorist attacks because, as she puts it, "the United States cannot be put under a glass dome."  But she said the new system maximizes the amount of information shared with the public about credible threats.

The current alert system uses colors to designate threat levels, with red being the highest.  But the system does not provide specific information about the nature of a particular threat or what to do about it.

New York City police and transportation officials stood along side Napolitano during her announcement as did two members of Congress from New York, Representatives Peter King and Carolyn Maloney.   Like other local officials, Maloney welcomed the new system, saying that New York City is the number one terrorist target in the United States.

"This new terror alert system will improve the security for Americans by letting Americans know what the threat is - if it is a specific threat, where the location is, and give advice on how you should respond," said Maloney.

Secretary Napolitano said another advantage of the new system is that any given alert will automatically expire after two weeks.  According to Napolitano, this will to prevent people from tuning them out as they have previous longstanding alerts.  She says the new system will also limit alerts to specific geographic areas and sectors.

"For example, we may have an alert that only involves the utility industry or hotels and motel industries or shopping malls," she said. "And so we will have specific ways to get out to those sectors."

Napolitano added that TV, radio, the Internet and social media will be used to provide specific information about what to look for such as a suspicious vehicle.  If necessary, she said, appropriate officials will be given classified information needed to fend off any potential attack.

Napolitano said that specific information about the new system and alerts will be available on the Department of Homeland Security's website: www.dhs.gov/alerts.   

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