Homeland Security Advisory System: Possible Issues for Congressional Oversight [Updated November 12, 2004] [open pdf - 91KB]
"The Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS), established on Mar. 12, 2002, is a color coded terrorist threat warning system administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The system, which federal departments and agencies are required to implement and use, provides recommended protective measures for federal departments and agencies to prevent, prepare for, mitigate against, and respond to, terrorist attacks. DHS disseminates HSAS terrorist threat warnings to federal departments, state and local agencies, the public, and private sector entities. This dissemination of warnings is conducted through multiple communication systems and public announcements. From March 2002 to the present, the HSAS threat level has been no lower than elevated, and has been raised to high six times. The first time it was raised to high was on September 10, 2002, due to the fear of terrorist attacks on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The most recent time it was raised to high was on August 1, 2004, due to intelligence regarding possible terrorist attacks on financial institutions in New York City, Washington, DC, and Newark, New Jersey. While the need for terrorist threat warnings seems to be widely acknowledged, there are numerous issues associated with HSAS and its effects on states, localities, the public, and the private sector. These issues include the following: vagueness of warnings; lack of specific protective measures for state and local governments, the public, and the private sector; dissemination of warnings to states, localities, the public, and the private sector; coordination of HSAS with other federal warning systems; and, cost of threat level changes."
CRS Report for Congress, RL32023