Orlando: Perfecting the Public-Private Partnership


When the telephone rang shortly
after 1 a.m. on Aug. 10, Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary got out of bed to
take the call.


            On the
other end of the line, Beary’s intelligence chief had a message: A number of
British planes had been grounded at Heathrow International Airport in London
after officials there clamped down on an apparent rehearsal to hijack planes
going to the United States.


            Orlando, in
Orange County, is one of the major British tourist destinations in the world,
with nearly 2 million Brits making the trek to the Central Florida vacation
spot, so Beary didn’t waste any time. Within a minute, a warning was streaming
out to more than 700 law enforcement and private security professionals
throughout the region, a communications chain made possible by technology and
made efficient by constant rehearsal.


            “It was pretty simple,” Beary said.
“We immediately notified the airports; the joint terrorist task force was
informed. I think the first three calls went to our theme parks. We know how to
tighten up the shop real fast.”


            Though its official population is
less than 300,000, Orlando andthe surrounding area includes 3 million
residents and plays host to 51 million tourists a year. What had been pasture
and wetlands 40 years ago now is chock full of international hotels,
restaurants, bars and hundreds of shops and private businesses that cater to
visitors from more than 175 countries.


            Like few
places on earth, the Orlando area is a mosaic of public law enforcement and
private security forces. Local law enforcement officials and private security
executives have over the years forged a working partnership they say has become
a model for other tourist-dominated regions.


“We continue to work very closely
with not only our local law enforcement … but also state [agencies] and the
different task forces and counterterrorism groups,” said Jacob DiPietre,
spokesman for Walt Disney World. “We appreciate that relationship with them and
appreciate their help, support and guidance.”


By some estimates, tight-lipped
Disney alone employs nearly 1,000 security personnel to protect the 35 million
visitors that pass through its Orlando theme parks. At Universal Studios, the
Orlando Police Department has up to 50 officers permanently on patrol to
augment security at a park that entertained 6.1 million visitors last year. Sea
World attendance last year was 5.6 million.


By breaking down traditional
barriers between private security and public law enforcement, the two sectors
have developed an integrated network to quickly respond to a host of perils,
both manmade and natural. Whether it is sharing real time intelligence, cross
training, meeting frequently and working through groups like the American
Society for Industrial Security (ASIS), both groups say they benefit and
visitors and citizens alike are safer for it.


            “We’re the
role model for other states,” said Charlie McCarthy, international vice
president for training and development of ASIS International. “Las Vegas comes
here to train and folks from all over the world come here to see what we’re


Entertainment and


            The Orlando area is an international
playground for millions of families and convention-goers. Along with three
major theme parks, the city boasts the nation’s second-largest convention
center. Now Florida’s largest international airport, Orlando ranks 21st among
the world’s busiest airports, with 34 million travelers.


Such a distinction poses challenges
for those whose job it is to maintain order and prepare for disaster in an
international gateway where most folks just want to have fun.


“It’s a big part of our economy,
and perception is very important,” said Orlando Police Chief Mike McCoy. “You
don’t want a stampede. That’s what you want to be careful of. One crime, two
crimes can create a stampede, and you don’t want that.”


            Among his duties, Beary heads up the
regional domestic security task force, a state-run system of command and
control. One of eight throughout the state set up after 9/11, Beary’s region
encompasses nine counties and 3.1 million people.


The group is responsible for
coordinating response to hurricanes, biotech threats and other manmade
disasters. Private interests, including the theme parks, have permanent seats
on the panel.


“The first thing we
knew is that it had to focus on the tourist trade,” Beary said. “That is the
economic engine that runs things here.”


The influx of foreign tourists
poses multiple challenges, not the least of which is the blending of so many
people arriving from so many different countries. Second is language, for which
local lawenforcement has several tools at its disposal: The University of
Central Florida, based in Orlando, provides translation services. For
emergencies, area law enforcement officials have a contract with AT&T to
provide rapid translation when the need arises.


Cultural issues also flare up, and
law enforcement must be able to adapt to both foreign tourists and the
priorities of the vacation marketplace, where visitor satisfaction must be


“You have to put someone down there
who is comfortable working with private security,” Beary said. “You also have
to have someone down there who is going to be a great ambassador for Orange
County. We look for those kinds of people.”


Technology and


            Given the
challenges of multiple jurisdictions and the need for immediacy, security
leaders have increasingly gone high tech. Besides the instant messaging
capabilities illustrated during the British plane incident, during which 700
security personnel were informed by Blackberry, local law enforcement has other


Referring to International Drive, a
major thoroughfare and huge tourist Mecca of shops and entertainment, the
I-Drive Bulletin Board, a secure website, posts daily updates on criminal
activity and is available to security managers throughout the area for minimal


            “That gives a lot more detail on
people we’re looking for, the crime tips we want to give and trends that are
going on,” said Det. Sgt Doug Sarubbi of the Orange County Sheriff’s office.
“We’ve got so many people coming in that we’ve got to stay one step ahead of
the bad guy.”


Another, more exclusive club works
through the University of CentralFlorida, where 75 law enforcement agencies
and major theme parks share data and information, including terrorism alerts,
arrest reports and other criminal data.


            Within the
next 10 months, local officials will activate a regional information center
that will cull through intelligence data. To be located at an undisclosed site,
it will include members of major attractions and the region’s Joint Terrorism
Task Force, a multi-jurisdictional group set up by the FBI in the mid-1990s to
deal with right-wing threats and anti-tax groups.


            While technology
plays a critical role, more traditional methods keep private industry and law
enforcement connected. Twice a month, the Orange County Sheriff’s office meets
with hotel and attraction people for intelligence meetings. There are also
periodic meetings of all 50 police chiefs in the region.


American Hotel and Lodging Association local chapter also holds monthly
meetings on security issues. Information is exchanged about crime trends and
staffing issues.


Private security


            A key ingredient in the region’s
success lies squarely on the shoulders of private security, public officials
and industry executives agree. Following 9/11, training funds became available
for those private personnel most likely to be first on the scene. Given the
need to bolster confidence, many private firms jumped at the chance to train
their employees, sometimes at little or no expense.


“For every sworn police officer
you’ll find 10 security personnel,” said Greg Moore, head of security at Pointe
Orlando and chairman of the ASIS Orlando Chapter. “That’s just a fact of life.
If you look at who is guarding most of your critical infrastructure, it will be
private security.”


            Instead of
butting heads, law enforcement and private security forces are working
together. Orlando police officers, for example, spend some of their training
time at Universal Studios to see how the theme park handles security issues. Similar
training sessions are held at area hotels, which, in exchange, receive free
training or site evaluation as part of the service.


“I think a lot of other
jurisdictions could take lessons from us because we are way ahead of the
curve,” Moore said. “There are law enforcement officers from the major agencies
whose job it is to bridge the gap between public and private agencies.”


The training sessions have a double
function by bringing law officers face to face with security managers they will
encounter throughout their careers.


“Yes, there are meetings, but I’ll
look up and there’ll be a deputy sheriff in my office who is assigned to the
area,” Moore said.


Private sector gains


Another factor in Orlando’s success
is the fact that corporate security forces are demanding more training for
their personnel. Doing so improves the reputation of private firms and gains it
the respect of public law enforcement.


“There has been a stigma about not
wanting private security people into this because they want to act like cops,”
said Herbert Tillman, program coordinator at the Homeland Security Training
Center at Mid-Florida Tech in Orlando. “But if you set guidelines and set
boundaries and train them, probably 99 percent of the people will do the right


Mid-Florida alone has trained
hundreds of private security forces in such things as a response to terrorism
and more in-depth enforcement. During his own travels, Tillman said he
surprises many public law enforcement seminar-goers who are not used to seeing
someone from the private sector. Slowly, that attitude is changing. 


The increased training is not lost
on local law enforcement officials, who have seen a marked improvement in the
quality of private security staffs. That by itself is prompting law enforcement
to more effectively utilize the resources the private sector brings to the


            “Corporations across the county since
9/11 have paid a lot more attention to security,” McCoy said. “They’ve clearly
put more money in that direction and, as a result, you see the quality and
training of security forces improve significantly.”


Michael Peltier
is a freelance journalist based in Tallahassee, Fla. His work appears in
Scripps-Howard Newspapers/Florida, Reuters New Service and Time magazine. His previous article for HSToday, “Securing the Sunshine State,” appeared in the June 2006
edition. He can be reached at [email protected]

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