By Nolan Feeney
January 7, 2015

At least 12 people were killed Wednesday in a shooting attack at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Around 3,000 police officers are reportedly involved in the search for the assailants behind France’s deadliest terrorist attack in memory.

How is France responding to the attack?
As a manhunt began for the shooters, police officers were stationed outside of schools, newspapers, public transportation sites, shopping centers and religious locations. Crisis centers were set up at locations such as police headquarters and ministries. School field trips were canceled, and parking around schools of all different levels was suspended. Searches for explosives and bomb-detection efforts were expanded, as were random stops and searches. Military presence was increased for additional surveillance. It’s all part of France’s Vigipirate program.

What is that?
The country’s security alert system, similar to the U.S. Homeland Security Advisor System. The program dates back to 1978, Le Monde reports, but was first activated in 1991 during the Gulf War. When the Iraq War began, the Vigipirate system was revised to include five different levels, each marked by a certain color, to signify various threat levels. In February of 2014, the code was simplified to just two levels — a vigilance level and an attack alert level, which is now in effect for the first time, Metro News reports. The attack alert level is activated when there has been a terrorist attack or when one is detected by national intelligence. There are about 300 different safety measures covered by Vigipirate.

What other attacks have there been?
In addition to the Gulf War and the Iraq War, major events that have triggered a change in the Vigipirate alert include the 1995 Paris Metro Bombing, the 2004 Madrid train bombings, and the 2005 London bombings. The alert remained in red colors until the new two-level system was established.

Write to Nolan Feeney at nolan.feeney@time.com.

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