Napolitano Announces New Terror Alert System

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano traveled to New York City to announce the end of the color-coded terror alerts. The new system goes into effect next week, and it replaces the five color-coded warning levels with just two: Elevated and Imminent.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano unveiled a new terror alert system today. Gone will be the color-coded warnings instituted after the 9/11 attacks.

As NPR's Brian Naylor reports, the new system goes into effect next week and it replaces the five color-coded warning levels with just two: elevated and imminent.

BRIAN NAYLOR: You may not have noticed, but the terror warning level has been at level orange at the nation's airports for years. And that's the problem. Nobody notices the color codes anymore or has any idea what they're supposed to mean. Secretary Napolitano says they've become a punch line for late-night comics.

The new alert system starts with the premise that the U.S. is at an elevated state of risk for attack. If intelligence officials determine the threat rises above that baseline, the public will be notified there's an elevated risk of attack.

A determination of an impending specific threat will bring an imminent threat warning. Napolitano formally announced the new system at New York's Grand Central Station.

Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO (Department of Homeland Security): Say goodbye to orange. That will be going away next week. And then in its place will be something that provides the citizenry of this country with more information that they can use in the event of a specific credible threat or terrorist attack.

NAYLOR: Napolitano says if there is a threat to a specific sector, say, hotels or subway lines, people will be notified about that. Homeland Security officials plan to use traditional and social media to get out their message. The new system was endorsed by a key congressional Republican, Homeland Security Committee chairman Peter King of New York.

Representative PETER KING (Republican, New York; Chairman, House Homeland Security Committee): This system itself is a significant upgrade of what we had up till now. It really adjusts to the reality of the current day, the reality of the current threat we face from terrorism.

NAYLOR: The new alerts will expire after two weeks, unlike the color-coded warnings which Napolitano says never seem to disappear.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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