Terror Alert: Knowing the Code--Part One

Our lives have changed a lot since the attacks on America. Tighter security, the possibility of more attacks, the Department of Homeland Security was created, and they have a color-coded alert system to help us all prepare for any future terrorist threats. But what does the system really mean for you and your family?

Currently, we're under threat level orange--or a high risk for attacks. The experts we talked with say be prepared, but it's not time panic.

Over the last year and five months, we have seen a number of changes in our community. More police presence, security checks and barricades like those in front of the Chatham County Courthouse. The government's Homeland Security Advisory System is another example. Phillip Webber, the director of the Chatham Emergency Management Agency, explained to us what the color codes mean.

"Green is a low risk, normal security," explained Webber. "I don't know if we'll ever see that."

Webber says even at a low-risk condition, the government and businesses are taking steps to prevent a terrorist attack. The next level, guarded condition--blue--is declared when there is a general risk of terrorist attacks. Government agencies, including your local police department, review how they'll respond to emergencies.

"I don't know that we'll go to blue or green. I would hope that we would one day," said Webber.

The country started the system in elevated condition--yellow. It's put into effect when the government feels we're at a significant risk for a terrorist attack.

"It doesn't mean we're walking around armed or looking over our shoulder and paranoid, but people need to be more aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious activities," explained Webber.

For nearly two weeks, we've been at high condition--orange--because of a high risk for attacks. Webber says we need to be alert and have an emergency plan in place for you and your family.

"Look at it as the peak of hurricane season," he advised. "You really need to double-check your supplies and your preparedness level as we go up."

Severe condition, or red, is the highest level.

"I think the red is, quite frankly, reserved for a terrorist event being imminent or having already occurred," said Webber. "Buildings begin to shut down at that point. Some state offices could shut down. Some federal offices could shut down. Some roadways could be closed. So there's significant impact on our lives when we go to red."

But emergency officials say don't get too caught up in the color-coded system. They say regardless of what the threat level is, you need to be prepared.

"This is a different day and age we're living in after September 11," noted Webber. "Everything changed. We saw life change at that point."

Reported by: Liz Flynn, lflynn@wtoc.com