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Friday, April 8, 2011

#DHS: U.S. to use Facebook, Twitter to issue Terror alerts - OMG

 WASHINGTON -- Terror alerts from the government will soon have just two levels of warnings -- elevated and imminent -- and those will be relayed to the public only under certain circumstances. Color codes are out; Facebook and Twitter will sometimes be in, according to a Homeland Security draft obtained by The Associated Press.

Some terror warnings could be withheld from the public if announcing a threat would risk exposing an intelligence operation or an ongoing investigation, according to the government's confidential plan.

Terror alert draft plan

The new terror warnings will each come with a stamped expiration date.

The new system, replacing the five color-coded levels, is expected to be in place by April 27.

A 19-page document, marked "for official use only" and dated April 1, describes the step-by-step process that would occur behind the scenes when the government believes terrorists might be threatening Americans. It describes the sequence of notifying members of Congress, then counterterrorism officials in states and cities, then governors and mayors and, ultimately, the public.

It even specifies details about how many minutes U.S. officials can wait before organizing urgent conference calls to discuss pending threats. It places the Homeland Security secretary, currently Janet Napolitano, in charge of the National Terrorism Advisory System.

The new terror alerts also would be published online using Facebook and Twitter "when appropriate," the plan said, but only after federal, state and local leaders have been notified.

The government has struggled with how much information to share with the public about specific threats, sometimes over concern about revealing classified intelligence or law enforcement efforts to disrupt an unfolding plot. But the color warnings that became one of the government's most visible anti-terrorism programs since the September 2001 attacks were criticized as too vague to be useful

The new advisory system is designed to be easier to understand and more specific, but it's unclear how often the public will receive warnings.

An elevated alert would warn of a credible threat against the U.S. This alert would expire after no more than 30 days, but it could be extended.
An imminent alert would warn about a credible, specific and impending terrorist threat or an ongoing attack against the U.S. This alert would expire after no more than seven days, although it also could be extended.

January the DHS pointed to its general Facebook page and a Twitter account (@NTASAlerts) designated for terrorism warnings as the DHS's primary means of alerting the public through social media. You can also sign up for terrorism alerts via e-mail on the DHS Website. The special DHS Twitter account has yet to issue any terrorism alerts.

This is not the first time the U.S. government has considered incorporating social networking tools into its emergency response plans. In 2009, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced a new Twitter account (@t911HELP) that would allow people in distress to send '@ replies' and direct messages to FEMA. The government agency originally planned to have the service ready for January 2010, but FEMA's emergency response Twitter account is currently in beta tests and not accepting pleas for emergency assistance from the public.

Twitter links

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