Homeland Security is looking to revamp its current terror alerts system. According to a draft of this new plan obtained by the Associated Press “Terror alerts from the government will soon have just two levels of warnings — elevated and imminent — and those will be relayed to the public only under certain circumstances. Color codes are out; Facebook and Twitter will sometimes be in.”
A 19-page document, marked “for official use only” and dated April 1, describes the step-by-step process that would occur behind the scenes when the government believes terrorists might be threatening Americans. It describes the sequence of notifying members of Congress, then counterterrorism officials in states and cities, then governors and mayors and, ultimately, the public.
It even specifies details about how many minutes U.S. officials can wait before organizing urgent conference calls to discuss pending threats. It places the Homeland Security secretary, currently Janet Napolitano, in charge of the National Terrorism Advisory System.
The new terror alerts would also be published online using Facebook and Twitter “when appropriate,” the plan said, but only after federal, state and local leaders have been notified.
According to the draft plan, an “elevated” alert would warn of a credible threat against the U.S. It probably wouldn’t specify timing or targets, but it could reveal terrorist trends that intelligence officials believe should be shared in order to prevent an attack. That alert would expire after no more than 30 days but could be extended.
An “imminent” alert would warn about a credible, specific and impending terrorist threat or an on-going attack against the U.S. That alert would expire after no more than seven days, though it, too, could be extended.
According to the draft plan, before an official alert is issued, there’s a multi-step process that must be followed, starting with intelligence sharing among multiple federal, state and local agencies, including the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center and the White House. If the threat is considered serious enough, a Homeland Security official will call for a meeting of a special counterterrorism advisory board. That board would be expected to meet within 30 minutes of being called. If it’s decided an alert is necessary, it would need to be issued within two hours.
“The plan isn’t yet final, as we’ll continue to meet and exercise with our partners to finalize a plan that meets everyone’s needs,” Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said.