Monday, October 26, 2020

New national terrorism alert system

  In the aftermath of recent events in the Mideast there is even more concern about the possibility of a terrorist incident here. While it’s never possible to predict with any certainty what the terrorists are up to, there are indicators of activity warranting alerting the public as to threat levels.

Since 2002, the federal government has used a five-tiered color-coded system, ranging from green (“low risk”) to red (“severe risk”). Over time that system has proven too vague, confusing and needing overhaul. One congressman described it as teaching Americans to “be scared, not prepared”. Recently a federal team based in Fort Myers visited Marco Island to review the existing system and discuss the future. Robert Cohen, TSA Federal Security Director based at Southwest Florida International Airport, briefed city officials, the Fire Rescue Foundation, Police Chief Thom Carr, and later held a second public briefing. Director Cohen and his multi-disciplinary team took attendees through the existing system, together with anticipated changes. They repeatedly emphasized the need for closer cooperation among assorted agencies and bureaus.

On January 27, 2011, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that the color-coded system would be discontinued and replaced by a new system (National Terrorism Advisory System) in order to communicate more clearly and effectively “detailed information to the public, government agencies, first responders, airports and other transportation hubs and the private sector”. The new system is currently scheduled to go into effect in late April or May. Until then travelers will continue to look to the existing color-code.

Under the new system, the Department of Homeland Security will coordinate with other federal organizations to issue “formal, detailed alerts when the federal government receives information about a specific or credible terrorist attack.” Instead of a color system the alerts will include a clear statement that there is an “imminent threat” or “elevated threat.” In a major change the alerts will also provide “a concise summary of the potential threat, information about actions taken to ensure public safety, and recommended steps that individuals and communities, businesses and governments can take.

To implement widespread communication there will be broadened use of official and media channels, including a designated webpage (www.dhs.gov/alerts) as well as the social network, including Facebook and via Twitter @ NTASAlerts. Alerts will not be open-ended. There will be specified end dates, subject to extension if new information emerges or if a threat evolves significantly.

Airline passengers are rightly concerned about airport security procedures, the impact of “pat-downs”, delays getting through security and the alleged lack of privacy because of advanced imaging technology.  TSA is testing new software on its advanced imaging technology (AIT) machines.  The tests were scheduled to take place at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, Hartsfield International Airport (Atlanta) and Washington National Airport (D.C.).  The new software has been designed to enhance privacy by eliminating passenger-specific images, and instead auto-detects potential threat items and indicates their location on a generic outline of a person.  The generic outline is the same for all persons.  If there is an indication of a possible threat there will be further screening; if there are no potential threat items an “OK” will appear on the screen.  TSA Administrator pointed out that, by eliminating the passenger-specific image, a separate TSA officer will no longer be required to view the image in a remotely located viewing room.  By removing this step of the security check process, screening will become faster and more efficient.

There are nearly 500 imaging technology units at 78 U.S. airports.  Additional units are expected to be deployed this year. Administrator Pistole said: “ Testing this new software will help us confirm test results that indicate it can provide the same high level of security as current advance imaging technology units while further enhancing the privacy protections already in place.”

In Congress, the response to the proposed new plan runs from favorable to wait-and-see.  One big issue is balancing the need to provide detailed information against the need to preserve sensitive intelligence information. As soon as the new program is implemented, Coastal Breeze News will run a detailed report.

 

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