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 Home > News & Policies > March 2002
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 12, 2002

Remarks by Governor Ridge at Announcement of Homeland Security Advisory System

Washington, D.C.

GOVERNOR RIDGE:  Thank you very much for that kind introduction.  And, Mayor Williams, I know you had to accommodate a change in your schedule to be with us today.  It's very important to have you join us, and I'm thankful for your participation, but your leadership  --  the challenges that confront this magnificent city are those that accompany metropolitan America generally.  Your work is complicated by the fact that it's also the seat of national government.  So having you here is very important to us, and we thank you for that.

Madam Secretary, I know you're going to speak in a few moments, but I'd be remiss if I didn't say that we devised the system we're going to announce today with the input of the Homeland Security Committee, and one of the most energetic  --  in giving us some very specific direction during the meetings that we had happen to come from you and your department.  So we thank you very much for that.

Dale Watson, our friend from the FBI, we're glad to have you participate because your team has been so involved, so very much involved in this.

And, Mayor McCrory from Charlotte, a good friend, it's great to see you here, again along with your colleagues representing America's cities.

First of all, I want to publicly express my appreciation to Attorney General Ashcroft and his extraordinary team at the Department of Justice, as well as Bob Mueller and his team at the FBI, as well as my own Office of Homeland Security.  The staffs of these respective agencies and organizations have been working for months, put long, long hours in to create this system.  And their extraordinary effort should be acknowledged in a public way.

If you want an example of why collaboration and cooperation and partnerships are so important in our collective effort against terrorists and terrorism, look no further.  This is a perfect example of what happens when we cooperate and collaborate and work together toward a common solution, once we've identified the problem.  So I say to all of you, well done.

Sixty years ago, this building, Constitution Hall, was used by the American Red Cross to help the war effort.  It was a time when the civilized world fought enemies bent on our destruction, when civilization itself hung in the balance, when Americans united to support the war effort and took new measures to guard ourselves from attack here at home.  In short, a time very much like our own.

We, too, must take new measures to protect our cities, our resources and people from the threat we face today, the threat of terrorism.  That is why today we announce the Homeland Security Advisory System.  The Homeland Security Advisory System is designed to measure and evaluate terrorist threats and communicate them to the public in a timely manner.  It is a national framework; yet it is flexible to apply to threats made against a city, a state, a sector, or an industry.  It provides a common vocabulary, so officials from all levels of government can communicate easily with one another and to the public.  It provides clear, easy to understand factors which help measure threat.

And most importantly, it empowers government and citizens to take actions to address the threat.  For every level of threat, there will be a level of preparedness.  It is a system that is equal to the threat.

Here's how it works.  The advisory system is based on five threat conditions or five different alerts:  low, guarded, elevated, high and severe.  They're going to be represented by five colors:  green, blue, yellow, orange and red  --  as you can see by the screen and the graphic to my right and to my left.

Now, the decision to name a threat condition will rest with the Attorney General, after consulting with members of the Homeland Security Council, after consulting with me.  He will be responsible for communicating the threat to law enforcement, state and local officials, and the public.

Now, a number of factors will be used to analyze the threat information:  Is it credible?  Is it a credible source?  Have we been able to corroborate this threat?  Is it specific as to time or place or method of attack?  What are the consequences if the attack is carried out?  Can the attack be deterred?  Many factors go into the value judgment; many factors go into the assessment of the intelligence.

Now, the American people want to know what is behind these alerts and, to them, perhaps even more importantly, what shall we do in response to them.  I believe this system, when in full force and effect, will provide those answers.  For the first time, threat conditions will be coupled with protective measures.

Now, for the moment, for the time being, as we are developing this system with our state and local partners, these protective measures will apply solely to the federal government.  In time, they will apply to all levels of government, every community, and hopefully, with buy-in from the private sector, the companies in the private sector, as well.

Now, for example, under a guarded or blue condition  --  that's a general risk of terrorist attack  --  federal agencies may review and update their emergency response procedures.  We want them to test their emergency communication systems.  They may also share with the public any information that would strengthen our response.

The next threat condition is yellow or elevated, a significant risk of terrorist attacks.  Agencies under yellow condition may increase their surveillance of critical locations, and implement contingency plans where appropriate.  Again, we have a level of threat, a level of preparedness, and the recommendation that we give with regard to preparedness is a floor, it's not the ceiling.  And this is the same procedure and the same process and engagement that we want the state and local communities to deal with. Take a look at a level of threat, and then assess where your level of preparedness should be.  Now, obviously, we're going to be working with the state and local communities in that assessment and in that effort, as well.

Now, presently, the nation currently stands in the yellow condition, in elevated risk.  Chances are we will not be able to lower the condition to green until, as the President said yesterday, the terror networks of global reach have been defeated and dismantled.  And we are far from being able to predict that day.

And again, this is an information-based system.  Based on the information we know  --  there may be some information and some things going on in the world or in this country that we will know about.  But when we get information, and it is credible information, and corroborated, this system will kick into effect.

The fourth is the orange condition, which indicates a very high, high risk of attack.  And finally, the red condition, the highest or most severe risk of attack.  Under red you might see actions similar to the ones taken on 9/11, when we basically grounded most or all of air traffic for an extended period of time.

We anticipate and hope that businesses and hospitals and schools, even individuals working with their community leaders to develop the local plan, will develop their own protective measures for each threat condition.  This system is designed to encourage them to do just that.

The Homeland Security Advisory System also allows us to designate a threat condition for the entire nation or a portion of this country.  If we received a credible threat at one of our national monuments, obviously, the Secretary would be very interested in that  --  it could be designated orange, while the rest of the country remained at yellow.  But that would simply mean that the Department of Interior, based on that assessment and the elevation of the risk, would have to elevate or extend the conditions that she had prepared in advance, in response to the higher risk.  Again, level of risk, level of preparedness.

Because the threat varies, our system must be versatile and flexible enough to meet it.  Now, many states have told us that they are eager to go ahead with their own threat advisory system.  States encouraged us to act. And now they have a template to guide their actions.  Now, we will not mandate  --  the federal government cannot mandate the use of this system. As the name implies, it is advisory.

If, for example, governors or mayors choose not to take extra protective measures in face of a credible and specific threat  --  or conversely, take added measures for a threat that has passed  --  that is their right.  But we are hopeful that with a 45-day review period, when they can take a look at this advisory system and apply it to their communities and to their states, and begin working on the measures that they'll take to protect their communities and states, we will have a national system.

Finally, I think it is very important to underscore  --  I think the Mayor did it and Jay Stevens did it, and others will  --  the system will not eliminate risk; no system can.  We face an enemy as ruthless and as cunning and as unpredictable as any we have ever faced.  Our intelligence may not pick up every threat.  And unlike natural disasters, as hurricanes, terrorists can change their patterns and their plans based on our response, based on what they see that we're doing.  But the President has certainly pledged to bring every possible human and technological resource to the task of implementing this advisory system.

The Homeland Security Advisory System is designed to encourage partnerships.  And this can't be emphasized and reiterated enough.  The system is designed to encourage partnerships between the public and the private sectors, between all levels of law enforcement and public safety officials, and between  --  and among all levels of government.

Our emerging national homeland security strategy will rely on the anti-terrorism plans of all 50 states and the territories.  But there are 3,300 counties and parishes, and there are about 18,000 cities.  So we all need to work together to coordinate and collaborate our effort to be prepared.  Working together is the only way this system will work.  It's the only way we can have a national system.

The system is the end result of countless conversations with first responders, local and state officials, business leaders and concerned citizens.  And I certainly express our appreciation for their input and their participation.  And for the next 45 days, we're going to ask all Americans to comment on this system.

With a Homeland Security Advisory System, we hope to make America safer and more aware.  But we also hope to make America better and stronger.  Attorney General Ashcroft has said that information is the best friend of protection.  But not just prevention of terrorism, information is also the best friend of crime prevention, fire prevention and disease prevention.  It often starts with one doctor, one police officer, one eyewitness.  They are America's eyes and ears.  And we must work to get that information from the grass roots to government in as quick a time as possible.

Six months after September 11th, our resolve is stronger than ever. Our fight against terrorism is making real progress on both fronts, thanks to the leadership of our President, the strong bipartisan support of these initiatives in Congress, and the extraordinary work that our military has done overseas.

However, we should not expect a V-T day, a victory over terrorism day anytime soon.  But that does not mean Americans are powerless against the threat.  On the contrary, ladies and gentlemen, we are more powerful than the terrorists.  We can fight them not just with conventional arms, but with information and expertise and common sense; with freedom and openness and truth; with partnerships born from our cooperation.  If we do, then like the men and women who fought Nazism and Fascism 60 years ago, our outcome will be equally certain:  victory for America, and safety for Americans.

But, as I said before, we're asking all federal departments and agencies make this system work immediately, integrate their plans into this advisory system, and work with us over the next 135 days to a final system.

It's certainly now my pleasure to introduce one of those members of our Homeland Security Council who had so much input in the advisory system, and who will help us make it happen, both nationally and within the federal agencies, Secretary Gayle Norton.  Madam Secretary.  (Applause.)


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