Washington — America is on yellow alert, facing a "significant risk of terrorist attacks," homeland security chief Tom Ridge said Tuesday as he announced a color-coded system designed to end confusion over terror warnings.
It will be years before the nation sees green the lowest threat level because terrorism may be "a permanent condition" in America, Ridge said.
"What we're trying to do is work with the states and local communities (and) also the private sector so we have a common vocabulary," the former Pennsylvania governor said in describing the new system in a speech to the National League of Cities.
The new system ranks threats by colors, starting with green at the bottom and followed by blue, yellow, orange and red as perceived dangers intensify. The warning level can be upgraded for the entire country or for specific regions and economic sectors such as the nuclear industry, Ridge said.
The system's guidelines give government officials advice on what to do as threats grow, but no such guidance is offered for general public.
Ridge said the system is designed to motivate local leaders to develop emergency response plans that would include ways to inform private citizens about how to react to attacks.
Under Ridge's system:
l Green is a low risk of attack.
l Blue is a general risk, and officials are asked to review and update emergency response procedures.
l Yellow is an "elevated condition," meaning there is a significant risk of attack. Increased surveillance of critical locations and implementation of some emergency response plans are called for.
l Orange signifies a high risk of attack, meaning the government should coordinate security efforts with armed forces or law enforcement agencies and take additional precautions at public events.
l Red means a "severe risk" of attack and may require the positioning of specially trained teams, closing of public and government facilities and monitoring of transportation systems.
America is at yellow alert because the al-Qaida terrorist network is trying to re-form after defeats in Afghanistan and has trained thousands of terrorists, some of whom have probably slipped into the United States, Ridge said.