Homeland Security chief to revamp terrorism alert system

By Doina Chiacu
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson (R) talks to the media about holiday travel at Union Station in Washington, November 25, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Monday he would soon announce changes to the national alert system to warn the public about terrorism risks.

The changes come amid fresh concerns about terrorism in the United States after last Wednesday's shooting in San Bernardino, California, although they were not specifically prompted by it. President Barack Obama has called the shooting, in which 14 people were killed, an act of terrorism.

Johnson proposed revising the alert system after five U.S. service members in Chattanooga, Tennessee, were killed in July in a shooting that has also been investigated as terrorism.

"We need to get ... to a new system with an intermediate level," Johnson said at a security forum on Monday, adding he planned to outline specific changes in the coming days.

The National Terrorism Advisory System is triggered by specific, credible information on a possible threat. The NTAS in 2011 replaced a color-coded alert system, but Johnson said more changes were needed.

"We need a system that adequately informs the public about what we are seeing," Johnson said.Johnson said the NTAS system had such a high bar for alerts that the government never used it. Security officials need to do a better job of informing the public about global terrorist threats and providing guidance, he added.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the system has been under review for some time and reforms would aim to make it easier for DHS to communicate to the public about national security threats.

"You should not consider this a replacement of this program, but rather some important reforms of the program that would allow it to be more effectively used to communicate with the American public," Earnest said at a news briefing.


(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Frances Kerry and Leslie Adler)