Homeland Security Advisory System Officially Dead

At 7:10 this morning, the Secretary of Homeland Security blogged that DHS had taken “another major step forward” in “strengthening our country’s defenses by getting all stakeholders – including the public – the information and resources they need in order to play their part in helping to secure the country.”  This step is the replacement of  the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS) that has been used since shortly after 9/11, with the new National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS).

The Secretary further stated: “Under the new system, DHS will coordinate with other federal entities to issue formal, detailed alerts when the federal government receives information about a specific or credible terrorist threat.  These alerts will include a clear statement that there is an imminent threat or elevated threat, a summary of the potential threat, actions being taken to ensure public safety, and steps that individuals and communities can take to protect themselves and help prevent, mitigate or respond to the threat.  These alerts will also have a specified end date.”  Thus, we now bid farewell to the open-ended, colored-coded five alert levels (the two lowest of which were never used) that danced before our eyes at airports and on various government and private websites.

The DHS press release announcing Secretary’s announcement indicated the availability of a Public Guide to NTAS, which includes an “example” of an alert (which is actually more of an outline of what one would look like) and further clarified the two alert levels under the new system:

  • “Elevated Threat”: Warns of a credible terrorist threat against the United States
  • “Imminent Threat”: Warns of a credible, specific, and impending terrorist threat against the United States

Some threats, depending on their nature, may result in alerts sent only to law enforcement or distributed just to affected areas of the private sector.  Others may be issued to the public at large, through traditional news media and through a designated NTAS webpage (where you can also sign up to receive email alerts), Facebook, Twitter, and through displays in transit hubs, airports, government buildings, and the like.

So what’s all this mean to the maritime transportation industry?  Neither the blog post, nor the press release, nor the Public Guide discuss how the NTAS will impact the setting of Maritime Security (MARSEC) Levels, which are currently tied to the old HSAS.  33 CFR section 101.200(c) says the Coast Guard Commandant will set the MARSEC Level “consistent with the equivalent . . . HSAS Threat Condition and that Threat Condition’s scope of application.”  But that section also gives the Commandant discretion to adjust the MARSEC Level “when necessary to address any particular security concerns or circumstances related to the maritime elements of the national transportation system.”

MARSEC Levels, defined and implemented in 33 CFR Subchapter H (the regulations implementing Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002), are the US expression of Security Levels called for in the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code.  To be meaningful for foreign ships entering US ports, Maritime Security Levels will have to stay pretty much the way they are.  It seems likely, therefore, that, if DHS were to come into possession of information of a credible terrorist threat against the US maritime transportation sector, MARSEC Level 2 (which is currently is currently designed as a response to “heightened risk of a transportation security incident” (TSI)) would be set for any and all areas covered by the threat. And if the threat to the US maritime transportation sector were “credible, specific, and impending,” MARSEC Level 3 (which is a response when a TSI “is probable or imminent”) would be declared for affected areas.  Under Section A/4.1 of the ISPS Code, governments are to set the appropriate Security Level based on the degree to which the threat information is credible, corroborated, and specific or imminent, as well as the potential consequences of a security incident.  So ultimately, there will at some point be a change to 33 CFR sections 101.200(c) and 101.205 (which shows the equivalent MARSEC Level for the various HSAS Threat Conditions) to factor in the NTAS instead of the HSAS.  Other than that, pretty much business as usual.

 

NOTE: This post may be copied, distributed, and displayed and derivative works may be based on it, provided it is attributed to Maritime Transportation Security News and Views by John C. W. Bennett, http://mpsint.com.

 

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