Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) is unveiling a statewide terrorism alert system that details steps that the public, law enforcement and local government should take in response to potential threats, addressing concerns that the federal Office of Homeland Security's five-level, color-coded system is too vague.
The state plan, obtained by The Washington Post, lists numerous measures to be taken when the federal threat level rises. The plan follows a national movement to broaden civil defense measures and encourage greater involvement by the public. Governments have struggled to establish how much information should be shared with the public to increase safety without sowing fear or confusion.
Warner signed off on the Virginia plan last week, adopting the federal five-color Homeland Security Advisory System, which rises from green, or low risk of a terrorist attack, to red, which signifies a severe threat.
The plan was designed for broad dissemination, and portions of it will be posted at www.commonwealthpreparedness. state.va.us. Virginia county and municipal leaders were briefed on the plan at their winter gathering at the Homestead at Hot Springs, Va., on Monday, and it will be shared with local and regional chambers of commerce.
The plan also has been given to officials in Maryland and the District and to the Office of Homeland Security, which is working to adopt a similar measure for the national capital region.
"We are acutely aware of the public's keen desire for more information for better preparedness," said John H. Hager Jr., the former lieutenant governor and Warner's homeland security adviser. "We are changing our culture here. We are at war here with terrorists, and we're trying to protect the citizens of Virginia. That's our job."
"The purpose of the plan is education -- to allow people to have a clear guide of how to respond and react to each threat level and to better define the threat levels for them," Hager said.
This week, the House of Representatives included a proposal by U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) to install a new Office of National Capital Region Coordination in legislation creating a federal homeland security department.
The head of that office would be charged with overseeing and coordinating security programs for the District and suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia, integrating regional planning, carrying out federal preparations and seeking funding.
"What the Office of Homeland Security is doing at a national level, we want to do a regional level," said Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, the deputy mayor for public safety in the District, which has endorsed special federal attention and funds for the region.
"Nobody knows what the color levels mean. That's okay, they're declaring a level for the entire country. But the further down you drill, the more specific you need to become," Kellems said. The District and Maryland have prepared their own five-level threat systems, but neither includes citizen guidelines and both are being refined.
The Virginia plan would have worked like this during September's elevated threat level, a condition "orange": Citizens would have been advised to look out for suspicious activities near critical facilities, avoid leaving unattended packages in public areas, organize emergency supply kits and keep in close contact with family members and neighbors.
Businesses would have been advised to place emergency response teams on notice, activate emergency operations centers, restrict parking and deliveries and implement other security precautions.