COG Raises Concerns About Effective Terror Alerts

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Local officials say the Washington area has trouble dealing with routine trouble like snowstorms and is not prepared to deal with terror threats. (Published Wednesday, May 11, 2011)

    Washington-area leaders questioned today whether the region is prepared to respond well enough to any future terrorist attack.

    As the Department of Homeland Security briefed regional leaders, the region has a hard enough time responding to snowstorms and other routine problems, local leaders said.

    Late January’s sudden snowstorm stunned the region, causing traffic chaos and confusion over whether to shelter in place or commute home.

    David Snyder, of Falls Church, cited “disjointed decision making; inconsistent, confusing and sometimes contradictory information to the public.”

    In the muted meeting room of the regional Council of Governments, that storm -- and the daily drama of just trying to get around this region -- was a cautionary backdrop to a briefing by Homeland Security on its revised response to potential terrorist attacks. Gone this year is the much derided color coded system that seemed forever on orange. In its place is a new National Terrorism Advisory System -- a two-step effort to warn either an "elevated threat" of terrorism or worse "an imminent threat."

    Ten years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the national capital region and its 19 governments still -- despite planning -- cannot yet speak with one voice to a near-panicked public to give clear, concise instructions.

    “As a region, how do we get to the point where we can give a simple, single message?” D.C. Councilman Phil Mendelson asked. “We surely didn't do that on Jan. 26.”

    Merni Fitzgerald, of Fairfax County, Va., stressed getting one simple message in times of stress.

    Charles Marino, of Homeland Security, said the messages would be specific. Local governments would forward the alerts through websites and social media like Facebook and Twitter.