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Back to Archives | Back to February 2006 Contents 

Special Focus: Homeland Security:Common Sense Measures to Safeguard your Community

By Roger L. Kemp, Ph.D., city manager for Vallejo, California, served on the U.S. Department of Justice Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council and is editor of Homeland Security: Best Practices for Local Government, published by the International City/County Management Association in 2003.

Photobraph by /FEMA News Photo
Photograph by Andrea Booher/FEMA News Photo

his advisory system serves as a foundation for a simple communications structure for the dissemination of information regarding the risk of possible terrorist attacks to all levels of government, as well as our nation's citizens.

There are many federal alert systems in the United States, and each is tailored to different sector of society: transportation, defense, agriculture, and weather, to name a few examples. These alert systems fill vital and specific requirements for a variety of situations in both the government and commercial sectors.

The HSAS provides a national framework for these systems, allowing government officials and citizens to communicate the nature and degree of terrorist threats. This advisory system characterizes appropriate levels of vigilance, preparedness, and readiness, in a series of graduated threat conditions.

The protective measures that correspond to each threat condition will help the local government and its citizens decide what actions to take to help counter and respond to possible terrorist activity. Based on the threat level, federal agencies will implement appropriate protective measures. State and municipalities are encouraged to adopt compatible local response systems.

State and local officials will be informed in advance of national threat advisories whenever possible. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will convey relevant information to federal, state, and local public officials as well as to the private sector. Heightened threat levels can be declared for the entire nation, for a specific geographic area, or for a functional or industrial sector. Changes in assigned threat conditions will be made whenever necessary by the DHS.

These threat conditions characterize the risk of a possible terrorist attack based on the best information available. Protective measures are the steps that should be taken by government and the private sector to reduce their respective vulnerabilities. The HSAS contains five threat conditions with associated suggested protective measures:

  • Green: Low condition
  • Blue: Guarded condition
  • Yellow: Elevated condition
  • Orange: High condition
  • Red: Severe condition

The United States has been at threat condition orange, high condition, only a few times since September 11, 2001. Recent HSAS warnings have been regional or functional in their scope. When the nation goes to threat condition orange, and this threat level is not limited to specific geographic areas, public officials in cities should take steps so citizens know that their municipal officials are making an effort to protect them.

To achieve this goal, there are several common sense measures that local public officials should take so residents know they are being properly protected against a possible terrorist attack, regardless of its actual likelihood. These public officials include elected officials (mayors and city council members), city managers, police chiefs, fire chiefs, public works directors, and other emergency personnel. The suggested measures they should take include the following:

  • Police and fire personnel should maintain a heightened sense of awareness while responding to, and working at, incident scenes.
  • Appropriate city officials (city manager, police chief, fire chief, and public works director) should review local emergency response plans and be prepared to activate their emergency operations center.
  • City managers (as well as police chiefs, fire chiefs, and public works directors) should communicate and coordinate with their respective counterparts at other levels of government in case a coordinated response is needed.
  • Police chiefs should closely monitor all available security and intelligence data from federal, state, and other local law enforcement agencies.
  • Police personnel should inspect building and parking areas for suspicious packages.
  • City managers should ensure that employees are especially watchful for suspicious or unattended packages and articles received through public and private mail delivery systems.
  • City managers should work closely with their police chiefs to consider controlled access to all municipal buildings, other significant facilities, and critical components of the public infrastructure.
  • City managers and police chiefs should ensure that appropriate security measures are in place and are functioning properly.
  • Police chiefs should make sure that police officers closely monitor all municipal reservoirs and watershed areas, wastewater treatment plants, and other sensitive public facilities.
  • Local municipal officials should work closely with their county officials in an attempt to report and detect all transmittable diseases.
  • The city manager should place all emergency management and specialized response teams on call-back alert status. This is also applicable to police and fire chiefs.
  • The police chief should limit access points at critical facilities to essential personnel only. Entry control procedures should be strictly enforced.
  • The police chief should ensure that officers are enforcing the restrictions on the parking of vehicles near sensitive public buildings
  • The police chief should increase defensive measures around key structures and for major public events.
  • Both the police chief and the fire chief should make sure that critical response vehicles are stored in a secure area or in an indoor parking facility, if one is available.

Municipal officials should also issue recommended precautions for citizens and business persons. These measures should be decided upon in advance of a heightened state of alert. The suggested guidelines for these two groups are highlighted below.

Residents should be encouraged to do the following:

  • Resume normal activities but expect some delays, baggage searches, and restrictions as a result of heightened security at public building and other facilities.
  • Continue to monitor world events and local circumstances as well as local government threat advisory warnings.
  • Report all suspicious activities at or near critical public facilities to local law enforcement agencies by calling 911.
  • Avoid leaving unattended packages or briefcases in public areas.
  • Inventory and organize emergency supply kits and discuss emergency plans with family members. Reevaluate the family meeting location based on the national threat level.
  • Consider taking reasonable personal security precautions. Be alert to your surroundings, avoid placing yourself in a vulnerable situation, and closely monitor the activities of your children.
  • Maintain close contact with your family and neighbors to ensure their safety and emotional well-being.

Business persons should be encouraged to do the following:

  • Announce threat condition high to all employees, and explain any special actions required of them.
  • Place company emergency response teams on notice, as appropriate.
  • Activate the company's operations center, if suitable to the occasion.
  • Monitor world and local events, passing on the latest information to your employees.
  • Ensure that appropriate security measures are in place and functioning properly.
  • Instruct employees to immediately report suspicious activities, packages, and people to their supervisors.
  • Search all personal bags and parcels, and require employees to pass through a metal detector, if one is available.
  • Restrict vehicular access and parking close to company-owned buildings.
  • Inspect intrusion detection systems, lighting, security fencing, and locking systems, to make sure that they are all working properly.
  • Inspect all deliveries and consider accepting shipments only at off-site locations
  • Remind employees of heightened security policies and proper building evacuation procedures.

The time to prepare a response plan, such as the one described above, is before the onset of a heightened state of alert. A community's guidelines should be put in written form and distributed to the mayor and the city council, all department managers, emergency management personnel, residents, and the local chamber of commerce, since procedures for the private sector are included. This information should also be posted on a city's Web site, published in local newspapers, and placed as a public service message on a city's public-access cable television channel. Acity newsletter would also be a good vehicle to promote these community safeguards. These latter vehicles are excellent ways to inform citizens about your state of readiness.

It is also a good idea to inform citizens and business persons of homeland security-related websites. These would typically include, at the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security ( and the Federal Emergency Management Agency ( At the state level, the state office of emergency services (in California, for instance, and the department of health services (in California, should be listed. It is also good idea to list the American Red Cross (, as well as the city's Web site. Homeland security updates can easily be provided to everyone on a city's Web site.

The goal is to spread the word to residents about the city's state of preparation for the next heightened state of national alert. Residents expect their public officials to be looking out for safety and health under such circumstances. Simple guidelines for communities, citizens, and business persons, such as those described above, represent a common-sense approach to being prepared to safeguard and protect your community during a disaster, whether natural or human- made. Take steps now to make sure your city is prepared.   ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 2, February 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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