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The Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided an explanation of the Homeland Security Advisory System as part of a plan "Are You Ready, An In-depth Guide To Citizen Preparedness."
The Homeland Advisory System was designed to provide a comprehensive means to disseminate information regarding the risk of terrorist acts to federal, state, and local authorities and the American people. This system provides warnings in the form of a set of graduated "Threat Conditions" that increase as the risk of the threat increases.
Occasionally, the federal government may call for a heightened state of alert on the part of local law enforcement and residents. When the police go to a higher state of alert, they may add extra patrols in various locations. Residents should also increase their awareness of their surroundings and report any suspicious activity. If you suspect a crime is being committed or the activity simply appears suspicious call 911. Many people fail to act because they are not sure if what they are observing is worth reporting. Don't lose precious time discussing the event with friends and neighbors first.
Threat Conditions & Associated Protective Measures
There is always a risk of a terrorist threat. Each threat condition assigns a level of alert appropriate to the increasing risk of terrorist attacks. Beneath each threat conditions are some suggested protective measures that the public can take. Low Condition (Green). This condition is declared when there is a low risk of terrorist attacks. Members of the public can develop a disaster plan and assemble a disaster supply kit. Guarded Condition (Blue). This condition is declared when there is a general risk of terrorist attacks. In addition to these actions taken, the public can:
- Update their disaster supply kit.
- Review their household disaster plan.
- Hold a household meeting to discuss what members would do and how they would communicate in the event of an incident.
- Apartment residents should discuss with building managers steps to be taken during an emergency.
- People with special needs should discuss their emergency plans with friends, family or employers.
Elevated Condition (Yellow). An Elevated Condition is declared when there is a significant risk of terrorist attacks. In addition to the measures in the previous threat condition, members of the public can:
- Be observant of any suspicious activity and report it to authorities.
- Contact neighbors to discuss their plans and needs.
- Check with school officials to determine their plans for an emergency and procedures to reunite children with parents and caregivers.
- Update the household communication plan.
High Condition (Orange). A High Condition is declared when there is a high risk of terrorist attacks. In addition to the measures taken in the previous threat conditions, the public can:
- Review preparedness measures (including evacuation and sheltering) for potential terrorist actions, including chemical, biological and radiological attacks.
- Avoid high profile or symbolic locations.
- Exercise caution when traveling.
Severe Condition (Red). A Severe Condition reflects a severe risk of terrorist attacks. Under most circumstances, the protective measures for a Severe Condition are not intended to be sustained for substantial periods of time. In addition to the protective measures in the previous threat conditions, the public can:
- Avoid public gathering places such as sports arenas, holiday gatherings, or other high-risk locations.
- Follow official instructions about restrictions to normal activities.
- Contact employer to determine the status of work.
- Listen to the radio and TV for possible advisories or warnings.
- Prepare to take protective actions such as sheltering-in-place or evacuation if instructed to do so by public officials.
Terrorism is a broad term that describes the use of force or violence against persons or property in violation of the criminal laws of the United States for purposes of intimidation, coercion, or ransom. Terrorists often use threats to create fear among the public and to try to convince citizens that their government is powerless to prevent terrorism. The effects of terrorism can include a significant number of casualties, structural damage to buildings, and disruptions in basic services such as electricity, water supply, public transportation, communications, and healthcare.
You can prepare to deal with a terrorist incident by adapting many of the same techniques used to prepare for other crises:
- Be alert and aware of the surrounding area. The very nature of terrorism suggests that there may be little or no warning.
- Take precautions when traveling. Be aware of conspicuous or unusual behavior. Do not accept packages from strangers. Do not leave luggage unattended.
- Learn where emergency exits are located. Think ahead about how to evacuate a building or congested public area in a hurry. Learn where staircases are located.
- Notice your immediate surroundings. Be aware of heavy or breakable objects that could move, fall or break in an explosion.
Biological / Chemical Emergencies
A major chemical or biological emergency can happen when hazardous amounts of toxins are released into the environment. You can be exposed to chemical and biological toxins by:
- Inhaling them.
- Swallowing contaminated food, water, or medication.
- Touching or coming into contact with contaminated items.
Many times you cannot see or smell anything unusual. In the event of a hazardous chemical or biological emergency, you will be given instructions by authorities. You may be told to evacuate to move uphill and upwind of the release, to shelter in place, or to go to a designated facility. You may also be in the immediate vicinity of an incident and not realize the danger. If you see people vomiting, in convulsions or acting disoriented, leave the area immediately and seek medical attention. If out doors, check the wind and walk upwind to evacuate the area.
Make a Kit of Emergency Supplies
The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests citizens make a kit of emergency supplies. These kits can be used for various types of emergencies, not just for a terrorist-related incident.
Be prepared to improvise and use what you have on hand to make it on your own for at least three days. Consider putting together two kits. In one, put everything needed to stay where you are. The other should be a lightweight version you can take with you if you have to get away.
You'll need a gallon of water per person per day. Include in the kits canned and dried foods that are easy to store and prepare. We live in a cold-weather climate, so include warm clothes and a sleeping bag for each member of the family. Store your kit in a convenient place known to all family members.
Keep a smaller version of the Disaster Supply Kit in the trunk of your car. Keep items in airtight plastic bags. Change your stored water supply every six months so it stays fresh. Rotate your stored food every six months. Rethink your kit and family needs at least once a year. Replace batteries, update clothes, etc. Ask your physician or pharmacist about storing prescription medications.
Gather basic emergency supplies - a flashlight, a battery-powered radio, extra batteries, a first aid kit, toilet articles, prescription medicines, and other special things your family may need. A potential terrorist attack could send tiny microscopic "junk" into the air. Many of these materials can only hurt you if they get into your body, so think about creating a barrier between yourself and any contamination.
It's smart to have something for each member of the family that covers their mouth and nose. Plan to use two to three layers of a cotton t-shirt, handkerchief, or towel. Consider filter masks that are readily available in drug or hardware stores and are rated based on how small a particle they filter. A "Health Care Particulate Respirator and Surgical Mask" will provide more protection than a dust mask. It is important that the mask or other material fit your face snugly so that most of the air you breathe comes through the mask, not around it. Do whatever you can to make the best fit possible for children. Also, include duct tape and heavyweight garbage bags or plastic sheeting that can be used to seal windows and doors if you need to create a barrier between yourself and any potential contamination outside.
There are circumstances when staying put and creating a barrier between yourself and potentially contaminated air outside, a process known as "shelter-in-place," can be a matter of survival. Choose an interior room or one with as few windows and doors as possible. Consider precutting plastic sheeting to seal windows, doors, and air vents. Each piece should be several inches larger than the space you want to cover so that you can duct tape it flat against the wall. Label each piece with the location of where it fits.
If you see large amount of debris in the air, or if local authorities say the air is badly contaminated, you may want to "shelter-in-place." Quickly bring your family and pets inside, lock doors, and close windows, air vents, and fireplace dampers. Immediately turn off air conditioners, forced air heating systems, exhaust fans, and clothes dryers. Take your emergency supplies and go into the room you have designated. Seal all windows, doors, and vents. Watch TV, listen to the radio or check the Internet for instructions.
For more information about specific effects of chemical or biological agents, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease website can be helpful.