In order to improve coordination and communication among all levels of government and the public in the fight against terrorism, the President signed Homeland Security Presidential Directive 3 on March 12, 2002, creating the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS). This advisory system serves as a foundation for a common sense approach for a simple communications structure for the dissemination of information regarding the risk of possible terrorist attacks to all levels of government, as well as the nation's citizens.

The Homeland Security Advisory System provides a national framework for federal alert systems, allowing government officials and citizens to communicate the nature and degree of terrorist threats. This advisory system characterizes appropriate levels of vigilance, preparedness and readiness in a series of graduated Threat Conditions.

These Threat Conditions characterize the risk of a possible terrorist attack based on the best information available. They are:

GREEN: Low Condition

BLUE: Guarded Condition

YELLOW: Elevated Condition

ORANGE: High Condition

RED: Severe Condition

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has been at Threat Condition Orange, High Condition, only a few times. Recent HSAS warnings have been regional and/or functional in their nature and scope. When the nation goes to Threat Condition Orange, and this threat level is not limited to specific geographic areas, public officials in cities should take steps so citizens know that their municipal officials are making an effort to protect them.

To achieve this goal, there are several common sense measures that local public officials should take so their citizens and business persons know they are being properly protected against a possible terrorist attack, regardless of its actual likelihood. The suggested measures they should take include the following:

  • Police and fire personnel should maintain a heightened sense of awareness while responding to and working at incident scenes.

  • Appropriate city officials (city manager, police chief, fire chief and public works director) should review local emergency response plans and be prepared to activate their emergency operations center.

  • City managers (as well as police chiefs, fire chiefs and public works directors) should communicate and coordinate with their respective counterparts at other levels of government in case a coordinated response is needed.

  • Police chiefs should closely monitor all available security and intelligence data from federal, state and other local law enforcement agencies, as appropriate.

  • Police personnel should inspect building and parking areas for suspicious packages.

  • City managers should ensure that employees should be especially watchful for suspicious or unattended packages and articles received through public and private mail delivery systems.

  • City managers should work closely with their police chiefs to consider controlled access to all municipal buildings, other significant facilities and critical components of the public infrastructure.

  • City managers and police chiefs should ensure that appropriate security measures are in place and are functioning properly.

  • Police chiefs should make sure that police officers closely monitor all municipal reservoirs and watershed areas, wastewater treatment plants and other sensitive public facilities.

  • Local municipal officials should work closely with their county officials in an attempt to report and detect all transmittable diseases.

  • The city manager should place all emergency management and specialized response teams on call-back alert status. This is also applicable to police and fire chiefs.

  • The police chief should limit access points at critical facilities to essential personnel only. Entry control procedures should be strictly enforced.

  • The police chief should ensure the enforcement of the restriction for the parking of vehicles away from sensitive public buildings.

  • The police chief should increase defensive measures around key structures and for major public events.

  • Both the police and fire chiefs should make sure that critical response vehicles are stored in a secure area or in an indoor parking facility, if one is available.

Municipal officials should also issue recommended precautions for citizens and business persons. These measures should be decided upon in advance of a heightened state of alert. The suggested guidelines for these two groups are highlighted below:

Citizens should be encouraged to:

  • Resume normal activities but expect some delays, baggage searches and restrictions as a result of heightened security.

  • Continue to monitor world events and local circumstances, as well as local government threat advisory warnings.

  • Report all suspicious activities at or near critical public facilities to local law enforcement agencies by calling 9-1-1.

  • Avoid leaving unattended packages or briefcases in public areas.

  • Inventory and organize emergency supply kits and discuss emergency plans with family members. Reevaluate the family meeting location based on the national threat level.

  • Maintain close contact with your family and neighbors to ensure their safety and emotional well-being.

Business persons should be encouraged to:

  • Announce Threat Condition High to all employees, and explain any special actions you require of them as their employer.

  • Place company emergency response teams on notice, as appropriate.

  • Activate the company's operations center, if suitable to the occasion.

  • Monitor world and local events, passing on the latest information to your employees.

  • Ensure that appropriate security measures are in place and functioning properly.

  • Instruct employees to immediately report suspicious activities, packages and people, to their supervisors.

  • Search all personal bags and parcels, and require employees to pass through a metal detector, if one is available.

  • Restrict vehicular access and parking close to company-owned buildings.

  • Inspect intrusion detection systems, lighting, security fencing and locking systems, to make sure that they are all working properly.

  • Inspect all deliveries and consider accepting shipments only at off-site locations.

  • Remind employees of heightened security policies and proper building evacuation procedures.

A community's guidelines should be put in written form and distributed to the mayor and city council, all department managers, emergency management personnel, citizens as well as the local Chamber of Commerce, since procedures for the private sector are included. This information should also be posted on a city's Web site, published in local newspapers and placed as a public service message on a city's public-access cable television channel.


Roger L. Kemp, PhD, is a career city manager, having served in California, New Jersey and Connecticut. He is the editor of Homeland Security: Best Practices for Local Government (ICMA, 2003). Dr. Kemp also served on the USDOJ's Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council. He can be reached at rlkbsr@snet.net.