Overview of the Department
The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a cabinet department of the United States federal government with the primary responsibility of protecting the territory of the U.S. from terrorist attacks and responding to natural disasters.
While the Department of Defense is charged with military actions abroad, the Department of Homeland Security works domestically to protect the United States. The goal of the Department is Homeland Security is to prepare for, prevent, and respond to domestic emergencies, particularly terrorism.
On March 1, 2003, the Department of Homeland Security absorbed the Immigration and Naturalization Service and assumed its duties. In doing so, it divided the enforcement and services functions into two separate and new agencies: Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Additionally, the border enforcement functions of the INS, the U.S. Customs Service, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service were consolidated into a new agency under the Department of Homeland Security: U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The Federal Protective Service falls under Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
With more than 200,000 employees, DHS is the third-largest government cabinet department, after the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. Homeland security policy is coordinated at the White House by the Homeland Security Council. Other agencies with significant homeland security responsibilities include the Department of Health and Human Services, the United States Department of Justice, and the Department of Energy.
The creation of the Department constituted the biggest government reorganization in American history, and the most substantial reorganization of federal agencies since the National Security Act of 1947, which placed the different military departments under a secretary of defense and created the National Security Council and Central Intelligence Agency.
The DHS also constitutes the most diverse merger of federal functions and responsibilities, incorporating 22 government agencies into a single organization.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Color Code Threat Advisory System
In March 2002, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge unveiled a new color-coded threat advisory system for the United States. The idea was to create a way to convey the risk of terrorist attacks to federal, state, and local authorities, and the American people. The coded warning system has five levels that are associated with a suggested protective measure and will trigger specific actions by federal agencies and local law enforcement.
Please note that the Homeland Security Color Code Threat Advisory System was recently discontinued. Information on the new advisory system is listed below:
About the Advisory System
The Department of Homeland Security Advisory System is designed to guide our protective measures when specific information to a particular sector or geographic region is received. It combines threat information with vulnerability assessments and provides communications to public safety officials and the public.
- Threat Advisories contain actionable information about an incident involving, or a threat targeting, critical national networks or infrastructures, or key assets.
- Homeland Security Information Bulletins communicate information of interest to the nation’s critical infrastructures that do not meet the timeliness, specificity, or significance thresholds of warning messages.
- The color-coded Threat Level System is used to communicate with public safety officials and the public-at-large through a threat-based, color-coded system so that protective measures can be implemented to reduce the likelihood or impact of an attack.
For more information and to see the current terrorism threat level, please visit the Department of Homeland Security website.