Thursday, April 7, 2011

Department of Homeland Security's New Two-Tier System: My Take

The Department of Homeland Security is dropping the old - and much-maligned - five-step color system for alerting folks in America on how wary we should be.

The new system includes a Twitter account - which I'm now following. They haven't tweeted anything yet: which is good news, in a way.

My guess is that the new system will be praised by some, reviled by others - and prove to be imperfect.

Before anything else, here are two links. I put these, and more, under "Background," at the end of this post:

Following the KISS Rule

Back when I was doing marketing for a small publishing house, I ran into the KISS rule. Or, for the more polite and/or sensitive, the KIS rule. Here's the full version:


If you follow this blog (thank you!), you know that I don't always follow that excellent advice.

Looks like the Department of Homeland Security decided to embrace KISS, though. In principle, anyway.

National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS): Two Tiers; No Colors; Online

Like I said, I'd be very surprised if the new system was perfect.

I'm also pretty sure that some folks will hate it, some will love it - or say they do - and most of us will try to use it. At least, I hope that most Americans will pay attention. I'm on Twitter (where I'm Aluwir ), and started following NTASAlerts earlier this afternoon. So far, "@NTASAlerts hasn't tweeted yet." Which is fine by me, considering possible implications of an alert.

About those alert levels:
    • A credible threat against the U.S.
    • Probably not specifying when or where an attack might happen
    • Giving Information which officials think should be shared
      • To prevent the attack
    • Expiration date
      • No more than 30 days from first issue
      • May be extended
  • Imminent
    • Warning about a terrorist threat or attack against the U.S. which is
      • Credible
      • Specific
      • Impending
    • Expiration date
      • No more than seven days from first issue
      • May be extended
    (Information from Associated Press, via
I think this two-tier system makes sense, at least on paper. Having expiration dates will help, I think, avoid the 'boy who cried wolf' situation.

Still, this system is designed and administered by human beings - and we've got a knack for making mistakes.

And, it'll be used by human beings.

I'm pretty sure that some of the alerts will be massively misunderstood. And some may be - imprudently written.

Like I said, we're all human beings.

With the new system, I think there will be less room for foul-ups. And, happily, folks who are interested can go directly to Twitter or Facebook (see "Background," below) and see what the DHS actually said. Not what a reporter says an expert thinks about what the DHS said.

A few excerpts, and I'm done:
"The U.S. government's new system to replace the five color-coded terror alerts will have two levels of warnings - elevated and imminent - that will be relayed to the public only under certain circumstances for limited periods of time, sometimes using Facebook and Twitter, according to a draft Homeland Security Department plan obtained by The Associated Press.

"Some terror warnings could be withheld from the public entirely if announcing a threat would risk exposing an intelligence operation or an ongoing investigation, according to the government's confidential plan.

"Like a gallon of milk, the new terror warnings will each come with a stamped expiration date...."

"...According to the draft plan, an 'elevated' alert would warn of a credible threat against the U.S. It would not likely 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 but could be extended...."
(Associated Press, via FoxNews)

"...The new system, called the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS), reflects the reality that we must always be on alert and ready. Under the new, two-tiered system, DHS will coordinate with other federal entities to issue formal, 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....

"...The alerts will be more focused to a two-tier system - 'imminent' or 'elevated threat.' At a minimum, alerts will include a statement of whether there is an imminent or elevated threat...."
("Sharing the Responsibility for Our Collective Security," Secretary Janet Napolitano, The Blog @ Homeland Security (January 27, 2011)

Somewhat-related posts:
In the news:


Brigid said...

What's a fist issue? "No more than 30 days from fist issue" "No more than 3seven days from fist issue"

There is? "There's such thing as a foolproof system, though"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian H. Gill said...


I was surprisingly consistent with the "fist issue" typo. Fixed that, and the 3seven thing, too.

"There is" rendered as "there's" is, surprisingly, correct usage. And fits the moderately colloquial style I try to maintain.

Brian H. Gill said...


I was surprisingly consistent with the "fist issue" typo. Fixed that, and the 3seven thing, too.

"There is" rendered as "there's" is, surprisingly, correct usage. And fits the moderately colloquial style I try to maintain.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.