The Associated Press has obtained a draft Homeland Security Department plan for a system to replace its much-maligned and perennially perplexing five color-coded terror alerts, implemented shortly after 9/11. The federal agency is still ironing out some of the details--which include a minute-by-minute decision-making process for issuing an alert--but here are the key elements:
Two Levels, Not Five An "Elevated" alert, according to the AP, will warn of a credible threat against the U.S. but won't discuss timing or targets. An "Imminent" alert will warn about a specific credible threat or an ongoing attack against the U.S. The previous system's levels, pictured above, were Severe, High, Elevated, Guarded, and Low.
Expiration Dates "Elevated" alerts will expire after no more than thirty days and "Imminent" alerts after no more than seven days, though both deadlines can be extended.
Social Media Homeland Security officials will use Facebook and Twitter to communicate terror warnings to the public "when appropriate." They may sometimes withhold threats from the public if they're concerned about compromising security, or relay information only to targeted audiences like the aviation industry.
Most preliminary reaction to the plan is revolving around this third point--Homeland Security's decision to integrate social media into its system. Nicholas Deleon at TechCrunch thinks it's a good idea. "It's probably not too far removed from the emergency broadcast system warnings and tests that go out over TV and radio," he writes. "Might as well tap into Twitter [and] Facebook if people are on them all day long, right?"
But others are more skeptical. Matt Drudge seems to see in the new plan another example of government overreach. He links to the AP story with the headline, "Big Sis to Use Facebook, Twitter for 'Terror Warnings,' with a photo of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano above.
And still others are confused. One Twitter user asks whether she'll need to "friend" the federal government to receive the warnings, while another wonders how people who don't use Facebook or Twitter--yes, those people exist, though we presume the person who asked this on Twitter is not one of them--will learn of the alerts.