At the Frontline: Securing the 2012 GOP convention

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."

In addition to hotels, Concordia said that it's also important to involve local business community so that they have information on things such as traffic, which could impact their operations.

"In Tampa, they have a downtown partnership group that reaches out to both businesses, the offices that are in the high rise buildings, as well as the restaurants. I've spoken to both groups in conjunction with the police chief of Tampa to kind of give them an overview of what our job is, what to expect, but specifically to identify those lines of communication through the police and what the police are doing to setup and communicate with these businesses both before the event and during the event to give them all of the information they need," he said. "We have a proactive stance in working with police and speaking with these groups through the downtown partnership."

Concordia said that he would have a representative in the joint agency command center, which will be established by the Secret Service at the convention to integrate all of the surrounding surveillance camera feeds into a centralized location. However, the former Secret Service agent said that they've placed a special emphasis on IT security and combating the potential for cyber-attacks during the event.

"This year, like in other areas of the corporate world, cyber is huge. We are reaching out to several private cyber firms to kind of do two things; work hand-in-hand with our IT director in creating a system and an environment that is very much forward-leaning, not only in the protection of our information and our proprietary assets, but also forward leaning enough to be able to respond immediately to an incident," Concordia explained.

Perhaps one of the biggest threats to the safety of convention goers is the potential for dangerous storms, which is at the top of the list of potential scenarios that Concordia's team is bracing for.

"We start off internally. What is a crisis? And go through each of those scenarios," he said. "You can 'what if' a situation right on in to infinitum so we keep it realistic. One that's realistic is an array of weather events in area especially during August when there is a high potential for weather events that can be disruptive. Going through (these scenarios) in an informal, tabletop way, kind of identifies who the key players are, who we need to have at that table so that we're positioned well to make the right judgment calls and decisions to move forward."

Despite the fact that a candidate or their campaign staff may opt for a change of plans at the last second during an event like the convention, Concordia said that these tabletop exercises are paramount in preparing for the unexpected.

"We kind of call it an audible. Having practiced different tabletop scenarios and knowing what the parameters are, so that if you have to make an audible call you can certainly feel confident enough... and can go forward and make the best decision you can," he said.

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