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Homeland security refers to governmental actions designed to prevent, detect, respond to and recover from acts of terrorism or other national security threats to a country's home territory, domestic population, or critical infrastructure. The term became prominent in the United States following the September 11, 2001 attacks. Before this time, such action had been classified as civil defense.

Homeland security is officially defined by the National Strategy for Homeland Security as "A concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America's vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur." Because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), it has responsibility for preparedness, response and recovery to natural disasters as well.

The scope of homeland security includes:

  • Emergency preparedness and response (for both terrorism and natural disasters), including volunteer, medical, police, emergency management and fire personnel.
  • Domestic intelligence activities, largely today within the FBI.
  • Critical infrastructure protection.
  • Border security, including both land and maritime borders.
  • Transportation security, including aviation and maritime transportation.
  • Biodefense.
  • Detection of nuclear and radiological materials.
  • Research on next-generation security technologies.

What is Terrorism?

The unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

Be Prepared

There are things you can do to prepare for the unexpected and protect your home and family from the possibility of terrorist acts. Talk with your family about the threat of terrorism. Create a disaster plan. Taking action before problems arise can reassure you and your children that you can be in control even in the face of such uncertain events.

What to Do If a Terrorist Event Takes Place

  • Stay calm and be patient.
  • Follow the advice of local emergency officials.
  • Monitor messages from Emergency Management and listen to your radio or television for local news and instructions.
  • If the disaster occurs near you, check for injuries. Give first aid and get help for seriously injured people.
  • Be vigilant. Look out for secondary hazards such as falling debris or additional attacks.
  • If the disaster occurs near your home while you are there, check for damage using a flashlight. Do NOT light matches or candles or turn on electrical switches.
  • Check for fires, fire hazards and other household hazards. Sniff for gas leaks, starting at the water heater. If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open windows, and get everyone outside quickly.
  • Shut off any other damaged utilities.
  • Confine or secure your pets.
  • Call your family contact. Do not use the telephone again unless it is a life-threatening emergency.
  • Check on your neighbors, especially those who are elderly or disabled.

National Terrorism Advisory System

The National Terrorism Advisory System, or NTAS, replaced the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS). This new system more effectively communicates information about terrorist threats by providing timely, detailed information to the public, government agencies, first responders, airports and other transportation hubs, and the private sector.

It recognizes that Americans all share responsibility for the Nation's security, and should always be aware of the heightened risk of terrorist attack in the United States and what they should do.

NTAS Alerts will only be issued when credible information is available.

These alerts include a clear statement that there is an imminent threat or elevated threat. Using available information, the alerts provide a concise summary of the potential threat, information about actions being taken to ensure public safety, and recommended steps that individuals, communities, businesses and governments can take to help prevent, mitigate or respond to the threat.

The NTAS Alerts is based on the nature of the threat: in some cases, alerts will be sent directly to law enforcement or affected areas of the private sector, while in others, alerts will be issued more broadly to the American people through both official and media channels.

NTAS Alerts contain a sunset provision indicating a specific date when the alert expires - there will not be a constant NTAS Alert or blanket warning that there is an overarching threat. If threat information changes for an alert, the Secretary of Homeland Security may announce an updated NTAS Alert. All changes, including the announcement that cancels an NTAS Alert, will be distributed the same way as the original alert.

Imminent Threat Alert
Warns of a credible, specific, and impending terrorist threat against the United States.

Elevated Threat Alert
Warns of a credible terrorist threat against the United States.

Alert Warning

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