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Sharing the Responsibility for Our Collective Security

Secretary Napolitano announces the Department of Homeland Security's new system for alerting the public to possible security threats.

From day one, this Administration has operated on the premise that security is a shared responsibility. No matter who you are – a student, a small business owner, a first responder, a member of the military, or a civilian – we all play a part.

This involves trust and confidence in the American public, as well as the notion that candor and common awareness of the threats we all face, coupled with concrete steps that individuals, families, communities, businesses, and governments can take to prepare for emergencies and disasters, deliver far better security than the federal government can provide acting alone.

Because of the trust we have in Americans to share in our collective security, today I announced the end of the old system of color-coded alerts. In its place, we will implement a new system that is built on a clear and simple premise: when a threat develops that could impact you, the public – we will tell you.  We will provide whatever information we can so you know how to protect yourselves, your families and your communities.  

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.

When we have information about a specific, credible threat, we will issue a formal alert providing as much information as we can.  Depending on the nature of the threat, the alert may be sent to a limited, particular audience like law enforcement, or a segment of the private sector, like shopping malls or hotels.

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.

Or, the alert may be issued more broadly to the American people distributed—through a statement from DHS—to the news media as well as via our website and social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and our blog.

Since a major change like this can’t happen overnight, today we are beginning a 90-day implementation period in which federal, state and local governments, law enforcement entities, private and non-profit sector partners, airports, and other transport hubs will transition to this new system. We are committed to making sure that we launch NTAS in the right way so it can be the most effective system possible not only for the public, but for all of our partners.  During the implementation period, the old system will remain in place.

The alerts will be specific to the threat.  They may recommend certain actions, or suggest looking for specific kinds of suspicious behavior.  And the alerts will have a specified end date, which will be extended only if additional information becomes available or if the threat evolves.

This means that the days are numbered for the automated recordings at airports about a color code level that were too often accompanied by little practical information.  This new system is built on the common-sense belief that we are all in this together, and that we all have a role to play.  

NTAS was developed in that same collaborative spirit: it was largely the work of a bi-partisan task force that included law enforcement, former mayors and governors, and members of the previous administration.  

We know that we cannot achieve 100 percent protection against terrorism 100 percent of the time – but by empowering the American public to share the responsibility for safeguarding our communities, and by working with partners across the country, we can – and will – continue to do everything we can to keep our communities and fellow Americans safe.