Terror Alert System Does Not Cause Undue Stress

According to researchers who studied calls placed to a crisis intervention hotline for New Jersey police officers, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) color-coded terrorist threat level advisory system does not appear to cause undue stress among law enforcement officers.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey analyzed call data from New Jersey’s Cop 2 Cop crisis intervention hotline, a system designed to provide counseling to police offers in the state, from Sept. 9, 2002 to Jan. 30, 2004. They found no statistically significant increase in calls during periods of increased alert.

During the study’s time frame, DHS raised the national alert level from yellow (elevated) to orange (high) five times. Of the 4,145 initial calls placed during the study period, 1,062 occurred during the alert periods.

While the analysis did show a substantial increase in hotline calls placed around the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, researchers did not detect a pattern of increased calls corresponding to an elevated alert level when they compared call data to the week preceding the alert period.

“With regard to New Jersey law enforcement, we did not find any evidence to support the concern that elevating the alert status places undue stress on those receiving the alert,” said George Everly Jr., a psychologist with the Bloomberg School’s Center for Public Health Preparedness and one of the study’s authors. “We believe these findings are an important first step in addressing concerns that policy makers may have for using such an alert system.”

The study, which is among the first to examine the psychological impact of the alert system on first responders, was published in the March 18 issue of the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health.

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