Office of Homeland Security attempts to define threat assessment levels

Andrea J. Fisher
Manager of Government Relations
APWA Washington office

In response to the uncertainty being faced by all Americans since September 11, the Office of Homeland Security (OHS) has created a color-coded alert system. The system is designed to alert federal, state and local authorities and the general public of the level of risk of terrorist attacks in the homeland and was outlined in the Homeland Security Presidential Directive-3. There are five identified threat levels and with each there are recommended protective measures.

As recommended by the Directive the levels are:

Green = Low risk of terrorist attacks. Recommended protective measures include refining and exercising preplanned Protective Measures; ensuring personnel receive training on the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS), departmental, or agency-specific Protective Measures; regularly assessing facilities for vulnerabilities and taking measures to reduce them.

Blue = Guarded, general risk of terrorist attacks. Recommendations from previous level as well as checking communications with designated emergency response or command locations; reviewing and updating emergency response procedures; providing the public with necessary information.

Yellow = Elevated, significant risk of terrorist attacks. Recommendations from previous levels as well as 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; implementing, as appropriate, contingency and emergency response plans.

Orange = High risk of terrorist attacks. Recommendations from previous levels as well as 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; restricting access to essential personnel only.

Red = Severe risk of terrorist attacks. Recommendations from previous levels as well as assigning emergency response personnel and pre-positioning specially trained teams; monitoring, redirecting or constraining transportation systems; closing public and government facilities; increasing or redirecting personnel to address critical emergency needs.

The alert system directive was released on March 11, and allowed 45 days for public comment, which ended April 25. Within 135 days from March 11, a refined proposal, based on comments received, will be submitted in writing to the President. It is important to note that the advisory system is a recommendation but not a mandate for state and local governments. Federal agencies and departments will implement the recommendations based upon the outlined threat levels that agency and department heads are responsible for developing. Further, a threat condition may not always apply to the entire country but only to a specific geographical region or industry. This would be stated in any warning disseminated by the federal government. The decision to alert the general public about a threat level will be made on a case-by-case basis by the U.S. Attorney General along with Governor Ridge, Director of the OHS. The U.S. Attorney General will be responsible for alerting state and local government officials and law enforcement authorities with relevant and timely information.

According to the Directive, when assessing the quality of a threat the following factors will be considered:

1. To what degree is the threat information credible?
2. To what degree is the threat information corroborated?
3. To what degree is the threat specific and/or imminent?
4. How grave are the potential consequences of the threat?

APWA membership was encouraged to submit comments regarding the Directive. As the development of the color-coded alert system progresses, APWA staff will continue to monitor the information and alert membership to the developments. Should you have any comments or questions please contact Andrea Fisher in the APWA Washington office at (202) 408-9541 or via e-mail at afisher@apwa.net. Karen Bloodworth of APWA's Kansas City staff may also be contacted with questions or comments at (816) 472-6100 or via e-mail at kbloodworth@apwa.net.