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DHS Elevates Social Networking In Terror Alert System

Facebook, Twitter, and Homeland Security's Web site gain importance in the agency's replacement for the color-coded communications system used since the 9/11 attacks.

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) this week unveiled a new terror alert system that will leverage social networking sites as one way of informing people of terrorist threat updates.

The National Terrorism Advisory System replaces a color-coded system put in place by President George W. Bush after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to DHS secretary Janet Napolitano. In that system, a series of colors -- i.e., orange for "high" or yellow for "elevated" -- was used to let people know the level of terrorist-attack threat to the United States at a given time.

The new system is aimed at more effectively communicating timely information to the public, government agencies, first responders, and officials at airports and other transportation hubs about terrorist threats, Napolitano said in an address Thursday unveiling the system at George Washington University.

The DHS will continue to use its Web site to communicate the threat level, as well as provide that information on its Facebook page and via a Twitter feed, @NTASAlerts.

Rather than a blanket alert system for all threats, the new alert system "will provide a concise summary of the potential threat, information about actions being taken to ensure public safety, and recommended steps that individuals and communities can take," she said, according to a text of her remarks posted online.

The new, two-tiered system will provide alerts that are more specific to the threat and even recommend certain actions or suggest that people look for specific suspicious behavior, she said. They also may be limited to a particular audience -- such as law enforcement -- rather than broadcast to the general public, and also will have a specified end date.

The agency plans to roll out the new alert system over the next 90 days to allow for agencies and partners to transition. It's unclear at this time exactly how the system will disseminate information, and a DHS spokesman said Friday those details will be hammered out over the implementation period.

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