WASHINGTON, March 12 (UPI) -- Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge on Tuesday unveiled a new five-stage, color-coded terrorist warning system that will notify federal, state and local law enforcement agencies about potential threats in their region.
"It is a national framework, yet it is flexible enough to apply to threats made against a city, a state, a sector, or an industry," said Ridge, speaking from DAR Constitution Hall in Washington. Ridge said the system provides a "common vocabulary" so officials from all levels of government can easily communicate.
The system was developed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in response to criticisms that repeated terror alerts from federal authorities were too broad and non-specific and did not give a clear assessment of the threat level faced by the nation. Ridge said it provides clear, easy-to-understand factors that help measure the threat.
"For every level of threat, there will be a level of preparedness," Ridge said. "It is a system that is equal to the threat."
Attorney General John Ashcroft would be responsible for implementing and managing the Homeland Security Advisory System, which is subject to a 45-day comment period for input by law enforcement agencies. After the required time, Ashcroft and Ridge will present a finalized plan to President George W. Bush for approval.
The decision to name a threat condition will rest with Ashcroft, Ridge said, after consulting with members of the Homeland Security Council. Ashcroft will be charged with communicating the threat to law enforcement, state and local officials and the public.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters the system was designed in consultation with state and local officials, as well as federal authorities in an effort to bring coordination to combating terrorist threats.
The levels of threat detailed under the Homeland Security Advisory System are:
* Green, or low condition, signifies the lowest risk of terrorist attack. Authorities would regularly assess facilities for vulnerabilities and taking measures to reduce them.
* Blue, or guarded condition, signifies a general risk of terrorist attack. Authorities would check communications with designated emergency response or command locations, view and update emergency response or command procedures and provide the public with necessary information.
* Yellow, or elevated condition, indicates a significant risk of terrorist attack. Authorities would increase surveillance of critical locations, coordinate emergency plans with nearby jurisdictions and implement, as appropriate, emergency response plans.
* Orange, or high condition, indicates a high risk of terrorist attack. The federal government would take additional precautions at public events, coordinate security with armed forces or law enforcement agencies and prepare to work at an alternate site or with a dispersed workforce, restricting access to essential personnel only.
* Red, or severe condition indicates the highest state of alert. In addition to other protective measures, government officials would assign emergency response personnel and pre-position specially trained teams; monitor, redirect or constrain transportation systems; close public and government facilities and increase or redirect personnel to address critical emergency needs.
The nation is currently under a yellow alert, officials said.
"Chances are, we will not be able to lower the condition to green until, as the president said yesterday, that terror networks of global reach have been defeated and dismantled. We are far from being able to predict that day," Ridge said.
Ridge's office last issued an alert in December, stating an attack against the United States and American interests abroad could be imminent. Ridge described that alert and two others issued in October as based on information gathered by the intelligence community and characterized as an increased volume of threats that were "above the norm" and that "reached a threshold" where it was necessary to place the American public on general alert.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors, which had criticized the administration for threat alerts that were too vague, asked Ridge to provide local officials with more information about threats and clearer signals about the level of threats they were facing. New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, leader of the U.S Conference of Mayors, said his group received a preview of the threat alert system last week. The conference plans to submit a detailed response to Ridge's office.
Mayor Pat McCrory, of Charlotte, N.C., called the alert system a "positive step" that will allow local officials to determine the best use of their resources. Charlotte is home to 560,000 people and is the second-largest finance center in the country. It also boasts a 60-story building and a numerous other high-rise structures. And two nuclear plants are located within 10 miles of the city limits, McCrory said.
"Before all the alerts were equal. Now that all alerts have a different response, it helps us to determine what to communicate to our citizen," McCrory said.
He said some citizens were uncertain whether to go to work or travel despite the president's entreaties to carry on with a normal life. He stressed that officials did not want to get into a "cry-wolf" situation where alerts came regularly but nothing happened.
Industry leaders representing have large plants and facilities key to the nation's infrastructure also praised the alert system. The American Petroleum Institute called it a "sensible, common-sense approach to making sure Americans were quickly informed of terrorist threats.
"It will permit oil and natural gas facilities to have a simple and uniform way of knowing how to evaluate any report of a threat to their facilities and the surrounding communities," the API said in a released statement.