Dave Clippert wants residents to know that the National Terrorism Advisory System has changed, but that does not mean they need to make big changes in how they live.
Clippert, director of the Sedalia-Pettis County Emergency Management Agency, this week distributed the latest bulletin from the federal Department of Homeland Security. Gone is the color-coded advisory system that ended up being fodder for comedians and the foundation for Internet memes; in its place now is an easier-to-understand three-level system.
“The old system gave you a color code and the color code didn’t change,” Clippert said. “We were in yellow (Elevated) most of the time. Then it was decided the country was going to stay in yellow but airports were going to go into orange (High). That was confusing, so most people didn’t pay any attention to it.”
DHS does not send out the advisories often – this week’s is just the second this year. Clippert had a clear goal in sharing it with local media and area stakeholders.
“It is just to remind people (that) this is what the system is now,” he said.
The new system has three advisory levels: bulletin, elevated alert and imminent alert. We are currently under a bulletin, the lowest level, which notes current trends regarding threats to the nation. The bulletin states that since the previous release in June, “(O)ur basic assessment of the global threat environment has not changed. We remain concerned about homegrown violent extremists who could strike … with little or no notice.”
“As I read these things, so much of this is Internet-driven with ISIS and all of their propaganda videos,” Clippert said. A threat can be created when “somebody off balance, off center, who is believing that decides to act.”
Clippert has seen the number and quality of ISIS videos decline, a reflection of it losing ground in the Middle East. The movement now calls for “lone wolf” attacks: smaller-scale stabbings or shootings to elicit fear in a lot of people. Clippert noted that while the November 2015 attacks in Paris were larger in scale and well-organized, since then ISIS activity has been more isolated and incidents have been smaller.
He also provided a reminder that ISIS is not the lone threat facing the United States.
“Most of the time we think of radical Islamic terrorism, but that is not always the case. Any number of groups out there – Americans – are thinking about where they are going to attack,” he said, noting that until 9/11, “the biggest terrorist attack in the United States was carried out by Timothy McVeigh, a U.S. military veteran.”
In the wake of 9/11, the call went out that “if you see something, say something.” While the intention is good, Clippert has reservations about its implications and how people could use it “as a chance to pounce on people” who don’t look or act like they do. He shared a story about a woman who lived in an apartment complex in an urban area; a family who lived there, who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent, left their shoes at the door outside their apartment. The woman’s mother encouraged her to call police about this “suspicious activity.”
“Just because someone appears to be Muslim does not mean they are a terrorist,” Clippert said. “If something is out of place, if something is just not right there … act on that, call someone about that.”
Terrorism is nothing new, but it is a newer issue confronting Americans.
“For years, terrorist attacks took place in Europe … and we weren’t getting too involved with that,” Clippert said. “I remember when I was stationed in Europe, the Europeans saying, ‘It’s coming. It is coming to your shores at some point.’”
While it is now part of our reality, Clippert does not want local residents to be overly fearful.
“I try not to focus on saying, ‘It is coming here to Sedalia,’ because it more than likely is not,” he said. Even with Pettis County’s proximity to Whiteman Air Force Base, there is no need to overreact.
“There is always that issue because it is a military base, but from my perspective it is a hard target,” he said. “I don’t particularly see it there.”
For Clippert, the DHS bulletin’s value is in raising awareness.
“I don’t think people need to change their daily lives, but it is a reminder that people need to be a little bit more aware of their surroundings,” he said.
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.