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Tactical Alerts

U.S. Central Command officials use scales of threat levels and defense readiness conditions to standarize the identification of threats and recommended responses throughout the military. While the THREATCON scale determines the condition for defense of the United States homeland and assets abroad, the DEFCON scale determines the posture of the military to prepare for the likelihood of war.

The THREATCON scale is intended to achieve interservice coordination and support for defense activities within the United States, on US bases abroad, and aboard US vessels. The military's four threat levels, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta, each bear a set of increasingly restrictive security precautions. When no threat level is indicated, the threat level is considered Normal. Threat-level considerations include the movement of people, visitor identification, vehicle checks, and the offset of allowed parking next to facilities and buildings. Following the terrorist attack of September 11th, while NASA prepares for the launch of space shuttle Endeavour, the Kennedy Space Center states that their current level of alert is Threatcon Charlie.

The DEFCON scale describes progressive alert postures primarily for use between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commanders of unified commands. DEFCONs are graduated to match situations of varying military severity, and are phased increases in combat readiness. In the event of a national emergency, a series of seven different alert Conditions (LERTCONs) can be called. The 7 LERTCONs are broken down into 5 Defense Conditions (DEFCONs) and 2 Emergency Conditions (EMERGCONs), shown below.


THREATCON NORMAL: This condition of normal readiness exists when there is no known threat requiring a heightened state of alert.

THREATCON ALPHA: This condition applies when there is a general threat of possible terrorist activity against personnel and facilities, the nature and extent of which are unpredictable, and circumstances do not justify full implementation of THREATCON BRAVO measures. However, it may be necessary to implement certain measures from higher THREATCONS resulting from intelligence received or as a deterrent. The measures in this THREATCON must be capable of being maintained indefinitely.

THREATCON BRAVO: This condition applies when an increased and more predictable threat of terrorist activity exists. The measures in this THREATCON must be capable of being maintained for weeks without causing undue hardship, affecting operational capability, and aggravating relations with local authorities.

THREATCON CHARLIE: This condition applies when an incident occurs or intelligence is received indicating some form of terrorist action against personnel and facilities is imminent. Implementation of measures in this THREATCON for more than a short period probably will create hardship and affect the peacetime activities of the unit and its personnel.

THREATCON DELTA: This condition applies in the immediate area where a terrorist attack has occurred or when intelligence has been received that terrorist action against a specific location or person is likely. Normally, this THREATCON is declared as a localized condition.




DEFCON 5: Normal peacetime readiness.

DEFCON 4: Normal, increased intelligence and strengthened security measures.

DEFCON 3: Increase in force readiness above normal readiness.

DEFCON 2: Further Increase in force readiness, but less than maximum.

DEFCON 1: Maximum force readiness.


DEFENSE EMERGENCY: Major attack upon U.S. forces overseas, or allied forces in any area, and is confirmed either by the commander of a unified or specified command or higher authority or an overt attack of any type is made upon the United States and is confirmed by the commander of a unified or specified command or higher authority.

AIR DEFENSE EMERGENCY: Air defense emergency is an emergency condition, declared by the Commander in Chief, North American Aerospace Defense Command. It indicates that attack upon the continental United States, Canada, or US installations in Greenland by hostile aircraft or missiles is considered probable, is imminent, or is taking place.



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Date of Last Updated July 9, 2002
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