State Department Rolls Out New Travel Alert System, Ranking Every Nation 1, 2, 3 or 4

By Susan Jones | January 11, 2018 | 5:38am EST

( - The U.S. State Department on Wednesday launched its new travel advisory program, which is intended to inform Americans about the risks they may face when they travel abroad.

The new system does away with "travel alerts" and "travel warnings," using levels 1 to 4 in their place.

Every nation including Antarctica, gets one of the four rankings, as follows: Level 1, "exercise normal precautions"; Level 2, "exercise increased caution"; Level 3, "reconsider travel"; and Level 4, "do not travel."

Countries ranked at levels 2 through 4 will include the reason for the ranking, represented by a letter, as follows:

C -- Crime: "Widespread of organized crime is present in areas of the country. Local law enforcement may have limited ability to respond to serious crimes.

T -– Terrorism: Terrorist attacks have occurred and/or specific threats against civilians, groups, or other targets may exist.

U –- Civil Unrest: Political, economic, religious, and/or ethnic instability exists and may cause violence, major disruptions, and/or safety risks.

H –- Health: Health risks, including current disease outbreaks or a crisis that disrupts a country’s medical infrastructure, are present.

N -- Natural Disaster: A natural disaster, or its aftermath, poses danger.

E -- Time-limited Event: Short-term event, such as elections, sporting events, or other incidents that may pose safety risks.

O -– Other: There are potential risks not covered by previous risk indicators. Read the country’s Travel Advisory for details.

Michelle Bernier-Toth, the Bureau of Consular Affairs Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizen Services, explained the reason for the changes in a conference call with reporters:

"Over the years, we've come to recognize that sometimes our various documents were not readily understood," she said. "And frankly, I personally was tired of explaining the difference between a Travel Warning and a Travel Alert, even to some of my colleagues. So about a year ago, we began a very intensive analysis of our Consular Information Program and all the Travel Warnings, the Travel Alerts, how we conveyed information to the public, and we realized we needed to do a couple of things.

"First, we needed to make it more accessible to people. And that's why in November we went to a mobile-friendly design for our website. We also needed to make sure that the information was more easily understood, putting it into plain language, making it clearer why we were ranking countries, why we were citing them as a threat or a risk, and making that very obvious to people. And finally, making the information more actionable. We often got questions from people saying, 'Well, I've read your Travel Warning, but what does it mean? What am I supposed to do?'"

Bernier-Toth said the way the government assesses the threat level in any given country has not changed: "There's still a collaborative process that involves our security experts, the intel community, host governments, our embassies and consulates, the information that we -- they feed into us that we then assess and determine how we are going to rank a country. That really hasn't changed. It's how we describe those conditions and set those levels that has changed," she said.

The redesigned system includes a color-coded map showing various warning levels. And some countries, such as Mexico, include different warning levels for certain regions within the country that are viewed as more dangerous than others.

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