At the Frontline: Securing the 2012 GOP convention

Convention security boss says coordinating with authorities, stakeholders among the biggest challenges


Scheduled to take place from August 27-30 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., the Republican National Convention will serve as the culmination of what has been a tightly contested race for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has designated the convention as a National Special Security Event (NSSE), meaning it could be a potential target for terrorism and will thereby be provided with resources from both federal and local law enforcement authorities.

Though the U.S. Secret Service (which has already provided many of the candidates with personal protection on the campaign trail) will be in charge of overall security for the event, they will also work closely with local authorities and private security consultants such as Al Concordia, CPP and founder of Concordia Security Solutions.

"I think the biggest challenge is getting everyone to be on the same sheet of music so that we have a general security plan that complements the convention," Concordia said.

A former agent with the Secret Service himself for more than 20 years who once served as the supervisor on the president's security detail, Concordia has been hired by the Committee on Arrangements, a subcommittee of the Republican National Committee, to ensure the convention is safe for all attendees.

In addition to the hurdles surrounding coordinating security for the event, Concordia said another big issue that they're preparing for are protests. Movements such as Occupy Wall Street have demonstrated their ability in recent months to quickly organize and descend upon an area in mass, creating potential headaches for security managers, as well as those in charge of logistics.

During past conventions, Concordia said that as many as between 8,000 and 15,000 demonstrators have turned out to protest, however, they haven't been able to determine exactly how many will show up for this year's event.

"We really don't know here so one of the things the Secret Service does in preparing is work with the local police agencies that are going to be supporting the security for this event and basically take them to the G8 Summits, the NATO Summits and the other NSSE events that the Secret Service is charged with organizing security for," he explained. "They take those principals there so that they can see the preparation side of it and also the execution side and they get a feel for how those local jurisdictions are dealing with the same problems and issues of crowd management, potential disruptive activities in the way of demonstrations and those kinds of things."

Concordia's team will also be working with local police to ensure that protesters don't make their way onto the convention floor through unsecured entry points or by using a delegate's credentials.

"We're always prepared to deal with that so that we can maintain order and, to go back to what our original mission is, maintain order so that the convention and the process of electing a nominee goes forward," he added.

Another key component to Concordia's security preparations for the convention is involving the local hotels in the Tampa area and their security personnel so that they will be prepared to deal with potential VIP guests and events at their facilities.

"One of the things that our team does is reaches out to hotel security and, of course, local police jurisdictions through the Secret Service and through the NSSE. We let them know who is in their hotel, some of the problems and issues they might be faced with and basically creating that liaison and interface between hotel security, law enforcement, Secret Service and us," Concordia said. "So, if it comes down to either a disruptive event or an event that might impede (the candidate's) movement, we're able to act on that quickly. Whether it be the nominee hotel or a delegate hotel, we start very early in our process to identify the respective hotel security and kind of get them on the same page and give them as much information as we can. There is an opportunity there for them as well to gauge and assess what their needs are going to be in an environment of heightened security."

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