Local leaders discuss new emergency alert system

Local leaders met with homeland security officials Wednesday to hear about potential impacts of changes to the nation's terror alert system. The color-coded system is gone, but the challenge remains: Preparing for an emergency and getting the word out to the public.

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Three levels of emergency alerts are shown on a cell phone. (Photo: Associated Press)

In April, the Department of Homeland Security launched its new National Terrorism Advisory System. Instead of color-coded warnings issued nationwide, DHS will now issue elevated or imminent alerts based on credible threats to specific cities.

“Without jeopardizing sources and ongoing investigations, we hope to communicate and provide details,” said Charles Marino of DHS.

At the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, board members discussed how this new system affects the national capital region. Some expressed concern that the region still needs a better communication plan, citing the mass confusion and chaos during the january snowstorm that crippled local roadways.

“Until we find a way to create an infrastructure behind the scenes that can better coordinate decision making, create the message and push it out to he public, from the standpoint of the user, they're going to be very dissatisfied,” said Dave Snyder, vice mayor of Falls Church.

One major concern is how to communicate with the thousands of tourists in an emergency.

“One of our big challenges here is, how do we get info to everybody who may just be visitng for the day, week, month,” said Merni Fitzgerald of Fairfax County.

To reach more people, regional leaders say they will use multiple modes of communication, including traditional platforms like newspapers, radio and television. They're also exploring how to best use text messaging, reverse 9-1-1 and social networking sites.

“We can't be tweeting one thing and putting something else on our hotline. We need to give out the same information to make it less confusing,” Fitzgerald said.

Local leaders say preparation is key and stressed the importance of individual plans for your family.

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