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Ridge seeks support for alert system

| Tuesday, March 12, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) — Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge said Monday a multistage alert system will provide "a common vocabulary" of danger to help communities all over the nation respond to threats.

Ridge, speaking to the National League of Cities, sought to bring local officials on board with the proposal, designed to provide more specific guidance when the government determines there is a new threat of terrorism.

The four broad terror alerts issued so far by the federal government have been criticized by local leaders and law enforcement for raising alarm without providing useful information.

A new five-stage, color-coded system, which Ridge said would be unveiled soon, will identify specific threat levels based on the information the government receives. Published reports have said green will be the lowest status, followed by blue, yellow, orange and red as the perceived dangers intensify.

Without giving further details, Ridge promised the new advisories would be easy for local officials to understand.

"What we're trying to do is to work with, again, states and local communities together, but also the private sector, so that we have a common vocabulary, a consistency of language," Ridge said.

The government will begin using the new system after its formal announcement, Ridge said. It will be subject to a 45-day comment period, after which it could be revised.

Ridge also said the federal government will suggest standards for how states and local communities should respond to each threat level.

Ridge urged local officials to prepare their own anti-terrorism plans and disregard the turf battles that historically have hampered coordination among different communities and levels of government. Planning at the local level should be fused with that at the county, regional and state levels, Ridge said.

"Unless we work together so that we have a seamless strategy through the states and down to the local government," Ridge said, "I'm afraid we won't be as strong as we need to be to confront what I consider to be a permanent condition that we as a country need to accept as a fact of life."

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