Homeland Security Funding: The National Terrorism Advisory System
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
By Vince Siragusa
Goodbye, Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS). Hello, National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS). The HSAS, first implemented in response to the September 11th attacks, was designed to “inform all levels of government and local authority, as well as the public, to the current risk of terrorist acts.” As many of us know, the previous system was built on a five-level, color-coded threat condition indicator that attempted to assign a color according to the current threat level. Latent with unrealized benefits, this colorful experiment has officially ended as of April 2011. In its place we find DHS writing a new chapter of homeland security preparedness.
In a January 2011 discussion at George Washington University, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano cited a "whole of nation approach" as a way to achieve the level of security and resilience we all require. In that discussion, the new National Terrorism Advisory System was announced as a replacement for the former HSAS system. This NTAS aims to work harder to ensure coordination between DHS and other federal agencies with an overall goal of more effectively
communicating information to the American public, government agencies, first responders, and other necessary stakeholders. As Napolitano stated:
“The new, two-tiered system [will provide] detailed alerts regarding information about a specific or credible terrorist threat. These alerts will include a clear statement that there is an "imminent threat" or "elevated threat." The alerts also will provide a concise summary of the potential threat, information about actions being taken to ensure public safety, and recommended steps that individuals and communities can take.”
While the former and oft-criticized color-coded indicator seemed too frequently to evoke the boy who cried wolf, the new system promises to go beyond just a simple “heads-up” to employ a more holistic approach to emergency and terrorism preparedness. Under the NTAS, the specific nature of the threat becomes a much larger indicator as to whom—or where—alerts are issued. Some warnings of national relevance may be broadly issued to anyone or everyone across the country. Other notifications, intended for a particular group or location, will be disseminated only to the related audience.
Not only are these alerts intended to be more recipient-specific, they will additionally be applicable to an actual threat within a definite time-period of time. Napolitano notes, “They [DHS] may recommend certain actions, or suggest looking for specific suspicious behavior” as a result. Thus, where the former HSAS announcements offered little if any practical information, the new system should provide more actionable details and next steps. You can follow the life and times of the HSAS five color-coded levels at www.dhs.gov/xabout/history/editorial_0844.shtm.
Only time will tell how well the new system will actually function in today's world and, perhaps just as importantly, how these new efforts will impact the privacy and liberties that agencies like DHS are designed to protect. The government's increasingly public image, the use of social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as efforts like the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign will inevitably become a new norm in a world that looks much different today than it did just 10 years ago. We can only hope, and trust, that a safer and better informed nation awaits us in the future.