Boston Braces for the Democrats

On July 26, dignitaries, politicos, media and political activists from around the country and across the globe will swarm into Beantown—and more specifically, the Fleet Center. It will be time for the Democratic National Convention (DNC), the first held since Sept. 11, 2001.

Boston has a particular sensitivity to Sept.11: It was from Boston’s Logan Airport that ten of the hijackers on twoof the fatal flights departed. Members of the hijacking teams madetheir residence in a nearby Newton, Mass. hotel on the final night oftheir lives.

Since that fateful Tuesday morning, Bostonhas served as an epicenter for experimental security measures andcounterterrorism tactics. Logan airport has undergone a major overhaulof its security systems, implementing stricter initiatives anddeveloping cutting-edge technologies to help strengthen “the hub’s”previously sub-par security record.

Many of the dignitaries will come by way ofprivate jet—but once they land, they’ll join a mass of humanityclogging Beantown’s arteries. That crush of people, coupled with the“Big Dig,” a $15 billion construction crusade to usher Boston roadwaysinto the 21st century, will give security officials a challenge ofstaggering proportions to ensure the safety of DNC participants andBoston residents.

Mariellen Burns, director of Boston PoliceDepartment (BPD) media relations, commented that although the BPDexpects protesters, it’s difficult to predict accurate numbers. “Weexpect protesters to turn out and we welcome them to express theirconstitutional rights to free speech,” she said. Several jurisdictionsare expected to lend a hand in managing crowd control and administeringsafety measures around the city for the event, she told HSToday.

Tackling the challenge

The DNC has been classified a NationalSpecial Security Event by the federal government and as part ofstandard protocol, the Department of Homeland Security’s Secret Servicetakes the point in all security initiatives involved in the event’sproceedings, according to Anne Roman, a Secret Service special agent.

The Service is designing and implementing asecurity strategy that will incorporate all branches of local lawenforcement, as well as the FBI, and including the US Coast Guard, theMassachusetts Port Authority (Massport), Boston Police and theMassachusetts State Police.

Massport governs security implementation atLogan Airport, Boston region ocean shipping ports and ensures thesafety of motorists on some of Boston’s busiest streets. The FBI’sBoston field office has been tapped for intelligence gathering prior tothe event. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has also beencalled upon to provide “consequence management” in the event of crisis.

Each site of DNC activity features a securityinitiative specifically tailored to the nuances of the activitybuilding and surrounding areas, Roman told HSToday. This is where the Boston Police Department (BPD) comes in.

“It is imperative to work together with theBPD because they have expertise in the areas of Boston,” Roman said.“They contribute as much as we do in this partnership.”

Boston’s finest will truly be put to the testas they attempt to escort politicos to DNC events while not gridlockingcommuter traffic in Boston’s notorious narrow, one-way thoroughfares.Blocking off roadways as a way of ensuring the safety of Bostoncommuters and DNC participants could equal chaos.

According to Roman, an operational securityplan has been adopted to minimize disruption among Boston’s inhabitantsduring the convention, with Massport helping coordinate security atLogan and the thoroughfares. Dennis Treece, Massport’s chief securityofficer, noted that the business of securing Bay State travelways willcontinue as usual during the DNC. Many of the security protocols thatwill be employed during the event have been utilized before duringother high profile events.

“When the President comes through Boston, itmakes my job easy,” he asserted. “The Secret Service detail isthoroughly prepared during his visits here.”

The Service will be in charge of allMassport’s security movements. Treece said he expects heightened airtravel over the course of the convention—overnight watches at Loganwill be increased to compensate for the amplified air traffic. Bostonpolice and Massachusetts State troopers will increase Massport’ssecurity force well beyond its current 219 members.

Putting a lock on Logan

Since 9/11, Logan Airport has been thebeneficiary of new measures aimed at minimizing the possibility ofanother successful terrorist plot. The convention will be the firstmajor test of its efforts.

All baggage—100 percent—passing through Loganwill be examined as standard operating procedure. State police willbeef up the visible security presence within terminals and aroundLogan’s perimeter. Cameras have been installed throughout the facilityand background checks have been intensified.

Last year, Logan became the first airport inthe United States to allow state police patrolling its corridors tocarry the Heckler and Koch MP-5—a submachine-gun favored by SWAT andcommando units worldwide, six times more accurate than the troopers’standard-issue pistols. The firearms are typically loaded with speciallow-velocity ammunition that doesn’t exit the target’s body, developedfor police use to minimize casualties among bystanders.

All of Logan’s windows have been coated withan anti-shatter film. In the event of an explosion occurring on one ofLogan’s runways, the terminal windows will remain intact, avoiding theshards of glass that cause most injuries in explosions.

Even Logan’s trash cans have been secured.They’ve been altered to ensure that the force of any blast within themwill be forced straight up instead of sideways.

In the longer term, Treece said he hopes thatfull-body scanning will become standard at Logan along with an airpurification system that would kill any harmful microbes that may havemade an international trek to Boston.

For now, though, Treece is assuring travelersthat during the convention, security initiatives will become a “moreintense, around-the-clock operation.” In the meantime, he said, in hisbusiness, “one has to suppose there is a threat when there may not be.” HST

Securing the waters

The preparedness mantra is the same for theUnited States Coast Guard forces that will be operating in Bostonwaters during the DNC.

“We’re one big team working towards the common goal of safety,” Coast Guard Lt. Dean Jones said of the overall effort.

The Coast Guard patrolling Boston’s waterwayswill establish security zones in both Boston Harbor and the CharlesRiver, which runs through the city and surrounding suburbs. Specificwater zones will be targeted in the weeks leading up to the conventionas higher risk areas, and will receive heightened scrutiny. Massportwill aid the Coast Guard by determining which zones need more intensivescrutiny.

The security initiative undertaken by theCoast Guard is regarded as a “Pulse Op.” According to Pulse Opprotocols, the Coast Guard is to respond to the situation of highestpriority in a time of crisis. The Coast Guard will also increasepersonnel during the DNC and expand watch times around the clock.

The Coast Guard will be the DNC’s primaryline of defense on the water during the convention’s time in Boston—butthe heightened alert shouldn’t affect waterborne entertainment such asdinner cruises.

Inside the Center

When not cavorting on Boston’s waters orenjoying a post-convention libation at one of Boston’s many wateringholes, delegates will be hard at work on the convention floor pullingfor presumptive candidate Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass) to sew up thenomination for President.

Erected in 1995, the Fleet Center maintains amaximum capacity of 19,600. The arena hosts over 200 events annually,ranging from concerts to sporting events, and will accommodate over 3.5million spectators this year. It’s located on the cusp of Boston’shistoric North End and sits adjacent to North Station, a major commutercenter for the city. During the DNC, North Station will be closed forsecurity purposes. 

Once inside the Fleet Center, DNC Director ofSecurity Ed McNelly will ensure the safety of attendees and media. Aformer BPD captain and detective, McNelly logged 33 years on the forcebefore retiring last summer to practice law. He was then tapped to leadthe security initiatives for the DNC inside the event center.

McNelly’s top priority is to coordinate security within the arena, and “ensure we have a smooth convention,” he said.

The convention will be a ticketed event, andcredentialing will be strictly enforced. Ticket holders and thoseinside have already undergone background checks courtesy of the SecretService and BPD. The BPD, DNC officials and the Secret Service willhave overlapping authority to secure the forum’s infrastructure, andDNC security forces will have a hand in securing the Sheraton HotelBoston, the host hotel for the convention, and housing many of theconvention’s guests.

McNelly has had considerable experience inoverseeing safety efforts for special events in Boston. He wasresponsible for security during the Tall Ships visit during the summerof 2000, when several hundred thousand visitors flocked to catch aglimpse of the grand clippers. McNelly also secured areas associatedwith a major biotechnical convention that saw thousands of protestersflood the city, without any disruption. Despite the presence of theprotesters, McNelly was able to orchestrate a security initiative thatensured the safety of both convention participants and their vocaldetractors.

The Democratic convention will have all thosechallenges and more, but McNelly exudes confidence. “I expect BostonPolice to respond to the challenge ahead of them,” he insisted.

Most of the security measures undertakenduring the Convention will be unnoticed by the general public,unheralded in the media—and many will remain classified. But lawenforcement officials want Bostonians and attendees to recognize thatall the authorities responsible for convention security have formed aunited front and will be working together. It’s a form of teamwork thatHomeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has long been preaching. InBoston the message has been received—and is being heeded.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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