Jul 1, 2004 12:00 PM

At the end of this month, Democrats will convene at the FleetCenter in Boston and nominate Senator John Kerry in the first national political convention held since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. A month later, in August, the Republicans will meet at Madison Square Garden to re-nominate President Bush.

Both conventions are considered potential targets for terrorists, and the grim goal of security for both conventions will be to prevent a mass casualty terrorist attack that could disrupt the nation's political process.

While securing a national political convention has never been easy, the 2004 sites pose unique problems. Both are located above major rail transportation hubs. Beneath the FleetCenter in Boston, North Station brings an estimated 24,000 commuters per day into the city. New York's Penn Station, beneath Madison Square Garden, serves approximately 600,000 people per day, arriving from points across the country.

Both sites are located in the heart of major U.S. cities considered to be likely terrorist targets. According to the New York-based Insurance Services Organization, which evaluates the likelihood of terrorist attacks, Boston ranks fifth among U.S. cities likely to be attacked; tragically, New York has already proven to be a target.

The first step in the planning process came last summer, when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) declared both conventions National Special Security Events (NSSE's). The NSSE designation places the U.S. Secret Service in charge of federal activities related to the design and implementation of operational security for the event. It also frees up federal funds to help pay for security. The Secret Service declined to be interviewed for this article.

According to some reports, the federal government will contribute $25 million to the security efforts at both conventions. New York City's estimates of the overall security costs for the Madison Square Garden event have risen from $27 million to $76 million over the past year. Boston officials have placed the cost of security at the FleetCenter at $40 million. By contrast, security for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, another NSSE site, cost $310 million. The federal government paid $250 million of that total.

In New York, for example, Director of Convention Operations Mike Miller told the Associated Press that the convention center's outer perimeter would be "measured in blocks and not feet."

At the outer perimeter, the security plan calls for fencing studded with checkpoints where security officers will check credentials. Vehicle checkpoints will likely be part of this perimeter.

In the months leading up to the Republican convention, New York officials insisted that Penn Station, located beneath Madison Square Garden, would remain open throughout the event. Police with bomb-sniffing dogs will, however, be assigned to monitor arriving trains and look for unattended packages.

Among the more frightening news stories to precede the convention in New York have been almost weekly reports of unattended bags found in Penn Station. "Whether these are official tests or tests conducted by terrorists has not been reported," observes Christopher Grniet, a vice president with Kroll Schiff & Associates, the security consulting and engineering division of Kroll Inc.

Grniet also predicts that police will likely conduct bomb sweeps of Penn Station and Madison Square Garden every day during the convention. Staffing will come from officers working with the various transportation agencies connected to Penn Station and the New York Police Department.

In Boston, officials have decided to close North Station, the transit stop underneath the FleetCenter, over the four-day convention run. In addition, major roads leading into the city will be closed, including Interstate 93, which passes close by the FleetCenter and accommodates some 200,000 commuters per day. Travel on Interstate 95 will also be restricted. During the afternoon and evening hours, a number of other routes into the city will close as well, including the commuter boat service.

Airspace above Boston and New York will be restricted, too. In Boston, for example, no private helicopters or planes will be allowed within a 30-mile radius of the FleetCenter.

According to some reports, approximately 10,000 of the city's 36,000 police officers will participate in security activities in and around the convention center. These officers have received special training related to the rights of demonstrators, monitoring CCTV, patrolling tactics, and sweeping for nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. A number of officers also attended the G-8 summit held in early June in Georgia to observe security operations for highly secure events.

In addition to the police presence, units from the Fire Department of New York, including emergency medical services personnel, will be deployed around the convention center to ensure availability if an emergency arises.

But many people outside of the police and fire departments have been brought into the security planning process. For example, New York City officials have made contingency plans for medical assistance. They have requested that 11 hospitals, four nursing facilities, and nearly 1,000 healthcare clinics in Manhattan maintain full staffing during the convention.

In both New York and Boston, thousands of people work for businesses located inside the outer perimeter. In both cities, officials have urged these companies to encourage employees to work from other locations within the city, to telecommute, or to take a vacation. In other words, unless you have specific business at one of the conventions, you probably won't get through the outer perimeter.

At the same time, officials in both cities are coordinating convention security with private security firms working for corporations and landlords with facilities located in or near the convention zones. "There is a realization that law enforcement cannot do it all," says Larry Loesch, vice president and general manager for Allied Security's New York City operations. "This is an important difference since Sept. 11. Where we were not involved before, now we are."

In Boston, for example, Allied's Dave Silvey, vice president of operations for New England, and Steve Denelsbeck, an account manager working at the FleetCenter, have been involved day-to-day with convention planning. "We've put on a number of briefings for property managers, building owners, and business owners about how convention security might affect business operations," Silvey says. "What will the traffic patterns be? How will one company's people get through credentials checkpoints? How will deliveries be made?"

In New York, Allied's Loesch communicates regularly with the police about frozen zones or blocks cordoned off to enhance convention security. "Whenever this information is released, we take it back to our clients to help them prepare," he says.

Securing political conventions or other large public events has always posed daunting challenges. In the post-Sept.11 world, however, the difficulties have multiplied. Federal, local, and state security officials are learning to address these challenges by working more closely with each other and with private security firms, community hospitals, and community businesses.

Some in the security industry are prone to second-guessing efforts to protect the conventions. "It is astounding that they would choose sites like these," says Grniet, "Perhaps they want to make a statement that we're in the U.S., and we believe we can do this."

According to the Secret Service, security planning began more than a year ago, a planning period that Grniet considers inadequate. "Putting together a security program for these types of events at these sites in a year is ambitious," he says. "I would think that it would take longer."

Access control will be a huge issue at the conventions, say industry observers. Each convention attendee will receive a credential based on their level of access; the more access an individual has, the more detailed the credential he or she will receive "To the extent possible, the security planners will probably try to generate a guest list for the conventions," Grniet suggests. "If I were running security here, I would also do background checks on everyone within a certain radius of the podium."

During the convention, officers with wireless card readers could check the credentials of those seated in high-profile locations near or around the podium, continues Grniet. Ideally, those attendees might carry cards with names, photographs and biometric templates.

The entrances to the convention centers will likely resemble checkpoints in airports, with magnetometers, X-ray machines, and bomb detection technology, comments Grant Haber, president of American Innovations Inc., a Spring Valley, N.Y.-based reseller of this equipment. "Suspicious packages could undergo swab analysis to look for explosive residues," he says.

"I think it would be wise to forewarn people coming in not to carry packages or bags," Grniet adds. "This will enable people to move into the facility as quickly as possible."

Additional perimeters will be set up outside of the convention centers.

Haber says it is possible to use mobile high energy X-ray screening systems also to check vehicles. "This kind of check could extract drivers and passengers from vehicles and carry out swab tests of different parts of the vehicle: gear shifts, door knobs, gas tank caps, trunk releases, seatbelts anything that people normally touch."

While news reports have not covered threats related to chemical, biological and radiological weapons, observers generally concur that technology designed to detect these kinds of weapons will be deployed at outer and inner perimeters of each convention center.

Political conventions always attract political opponents and demonstrators. "A demonstration can be peaceful, aggressive, or criminal and sometimes all three," says Tim Horner, senior director with Kroll, Inc. in New York. As a retired commanding officer of the New York Police Department's Community Affairs division, Horner has been directly responsible for managing demonstrations in New York. "Prior to a demonstration, you negotiate with the group to explain the ground rules. For example, no one can use a wooden post to carry a sign. Wooden posts can be used as weapons. We also discuss the types of sound systems that can be used and for how long. This is a matter of balancing the rights of demonstrators with the rights of companies conducting business in the area. We also discuss where the demonstration will take place and set the route.

"Finally, managing demonstrations includes an intelligence component: What have these groups done in the past? Have they been violent? You have to factor all of this into your analysis of security needs for the current event."

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