THE MAGAZINE

State Perspective - Colorado

By Joseph Straw

Q. What did the state take away from last year’s Democratic National Convention in Denver?

A. The DNC was really a great exercise, and also a great evaluation of a lot of the things that we spent a lot of money on, interoperable communications for one thing. We found that our interoperable communications were very effective, and one of the success stories of the DNC. We also found that the cooperation and collaboration that occurred as a result of the planning processes was a great success story.

The challenges that some of the challenge that we had with the DNC, however, that is something we’re going to have to work on in the future, is just the legal issues associated with multijurisdicitonal operations, and by that I mean, if you have police departments coming in from several different jurisdictions to support a police department in a single jurisdiction, there are a lot of legal issues that, as you get into it, are really time-consuming, not the least of which is the lawyers saying “liability.” If someone from the Lakewood Police Department has to use aggressive force, up to and including possibly using his or her firearm, you know, what kind of liability does Lakewood incur as a result of supporting Denver. And there’s always a lawsuit that will occur after that, and so then who is on the hook for the lawsuit? Is it the Lakewood Police Department or the Lakewood police officers. Those legal issues are really pretty thorny issues to a certain extent, and some fairly expensive issues, because when you start talking about liability you start talking about liability insurance. You’re no longer self-insured, and of course if Lakewood sends their police department to help out the Denver Police Department, and Denver says, “OK, we’ll be responsible for it but this is a huge event we don’t have enough money to be able to self-insure ourselves with all of these other police departments and we’re a little nervous too knowing that these guys don’t work for us and we don’t know what their training has been, so we don’t really want to accept their liability, so who does accept liability? Well that’s where you come in with liability insurance. So that takes time, and you have to go find an insurer. You have to figure out who does what, and what kind of different things do you put into that insurance policy. So it turned out to be a bigger issue than I think any of us expected.

This discussion included every lawyer in every jurisdiction. To include all of the lawyers representing all of the wonderful folks who were coming here to demonstrate. They all had video cameras and everybody knew there were going to be lawsuits that were going to come at us as a result of this. So it was not like it was whether there are going to be lawsuits. It was, there are going to be lawsuits, and who are they going to be against. And we knew that was going to happen. It’s just a fact of life anymore in the type of society we live in.

And of course the big threat to a certain extent in addition to all of those other threats that we had to be concerned about, was the terrorist activity, those kind of things, is just the demonstration piece of it, where there were several demonstration groups that said, “We’re not going to worry about lawful demonstrations, we’re an anarchist groups, so we don’t believe in law, we don’t believe in government so we’re going to demonstrate any time we please, and oh, by the way, we’re going to use any tactics we want to use, up to and including assaulting police officers.” So those are the kind of threats that those folks were faced with, and we had a high threat environment with a lot of different jurisdictions being involved, and there’s always a potential for bad things to happen. Luckily they didn’t.

The Denver Police Department trained all these outside  jurisdictions by the way. A lot of training that went into this, and then a lot of rules of engagement that were adhered to by all those jurisdictions. They just did a great job with that and as a result they were able to control all the situations before they occurred. Up to and including having great intelligence with some intelligence gathering programs that they had developed for the DNC which were also one of the great success stories, where they were able to go out and find the caches of all the things that some of these protest groups had put in place that were weapons that were fairly ugly weapons, you know, feces and urine and bricks and boards with nails in them, those kinds of things. They were planning on using them in direct action against police officers. So luckily we were able to find all those and get rid of them before they went in and used them.

And that was a partnership that was developed with all the Denver business community as well. Almost every large building has their own security. So the Denver Police went out, touched base with all those guys and said, “Listen, if you see anything, here’s who you call, and here’s what we do.” So there’s a lot of these things, these weapons caches that were out there, were in alleys and around dumpsters, those kinds of things; the security folks at one of buildings saw that going on, called up the Denver Police Department and said, “Hey, you’ve got guys out here who are putting some things in the alley in back of a building that looks like they could be serious things that could be used against you.” And then they go out and investigate and they next thing you know, yup, sure enough they have a big cache of weapons there that I just talked about and they went out there and had Denver Solid Waste Management went in there and picked them all up and got rid of them.

Q. How has your background helped you on the job?

A. Being involved in the military, national defense, and then obviously we do a lot with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive, all of that, you know we’re very familiar with the types if things that terrorists would have at their disposal to use as a weapon, and of course you know we’ve practiced and exercised with different operations in support of our federal mission where we would actually go into the combat theater of operations and have to use all of those personal protective equipment items those sort of things. So I was very familiar with piece of it, so the terrorist piece of it wasn’t unfamiliar to me, and then of course with the National Guard especially as the adjutant general I was obviously deeply involved with the state’s emergency response mission. So any time you had a forest fire, any time you had a blizzard, flood, tornado, you name it, the first call was call out the Guard, get them in there to provide security, emergency medical care, airlift, firefighting capability from the air with helicopters, you know, logistics support, transporting folks, those kinds of things.

And of course I have a lot of really good relationships I’ve developed across the state after my almost eight years as the adjutant general, to where I knew a lot of the local sheriffs, I knew a lot of emergency medical folks, and of course I knew all of the state government folks, being a cabinet officer as well. So it pretty well prepared me for this job as well as being able to come in and try to figure out exactly what we needed to do and what direction we needed to go to fix all the things that the governor felt needed to be fixed.

Q. Has your office engaged the private sector? If so, how?

A. I’ve got a community preparedness program manager whose specific responsibility is to engage the community in preparedness initiatives and try to determine what they can do to help support our homeland security mission, since our state homeland security strategy is based on a collaborative approach. The vision is Colorado’s communities working together for a safer tomorrow. The whole idea is that every one of the Colorado communities whether it’s private sector, non-governmental organizations, state government, local government, you name it, all of our communities are trying to work together in this process and we’ve got several different initiatives going on. We have a community preparedness advisory council that my community preparedness program manager chairs, and they bring in private sector non-governmental organizations into this advisory council and essentially they talk about preparedness initiatives for the entire state. And then of course we’ve got that at the regional level as well. And the Citizen Corps program is part of that, but I wanted community preparedness to be more than just Citizen Corps. And so we’ve got that going on right now out of our office.

Also, within the local community itself, we’ve got a thing called the Colorado Emergency Preparedness Partnership (CEPP). And that was initiated by the Business Executives for National Security. And so that CEPP is funded by a foundation here in Colorado that essentially involves all of the state, local, government, it’s primarily right now in the Denver metro area, but it involves all the local government folks as well as all the private sector, many private sector non-governmental organizations, foundations, you name it, that basically form this partnership, and then they talk about how they can help support the homeland security mission within the state of Colorado. Pam Pfeifer is the executive director of that organization and she does a great job of developing initiatives, and she put together a program to support the DNC that essentially brought in the CDC foundation, it’s called metaleadership program, its basically we were the third state to do it; Kansas did it and I forget who the other state was that did it, but Georgia. Atlanta. But it’s the CDC foundation that sponsored it. Metaleadership is really focused on how do we get leadership within the entire community in specifically a large metropolitan area that come together from all the different organizations in the community, private sector as well as public, and try to determine what we need to do to make our communities safer. So that program’s going on as well. CEPP Is very well energized in that, they’re working on building an inventory of capability that the private sector has that the state government, local governments, could tap into to help support them. In other words, how many refrigerated trucks does Wal-Mart have that could be used in an emergency to try to transport ice or water or whatever to a community that needs it. What do we have out there, resource wise that we can tap into in the private sector that they’d be willing to support us with.

Q. What are your goals for your agency?

A. The biggest goal we have basically is to continue the implementation of our state strategy. We’re in phase three right now of our state strategy. Phase one was the development of the strategy and getting buy-in from all the regions as well as our state agencies in the strategy as it exists and of course we have that signed by the governor, and it was approved by DHS in March, so we feel very strongly that the state strategy is going to be our guidance. We’re going to use that to really develop and to help execute our homeland security mission. Phase two was the training of our goal leaders that essentially said here’s the capabilities-based preparedness planning process, the 8-step process, here’s what you need to do, step 1 through step 8, here’s what you need to do to form your group and get them working, and here’s what we’re looking for expectations form you as a result of this. And so we’ve completed our goal leader training, we’re now in the process of starting goal leader working groups that essentially will be developing initiatives for the target capabilities that we prioritized. We prioritized the top 15 right now, and then we’re going to work phase IV is going to be working on the other 22 target capabilities we’re going to work next year.

So implementing phase three of our state strategy is our priority for this year. For next year it will be implementing phase four. And then we’re going to complete the build-out of our office of homeland security. We still have a couple people left to hire. We have to find a facility, and actually what we’re doing is we’re going to stay here and we’re right now kind of embedded in office space within DEM. Wherever they had a free office we’ve kind of moved in. And so we’re going to build out some space that is located right across the hall from DEM, so we’re going to be in the same office complex as DEM, our intelligence fusion center, which is the Colorado Information Analysis Center, as well as our Rubicon team, which is our critical infrastructure protection folks. So all of us are going to be kind of one-stop shopping here in this complex. So it’s worked out very well, and of course DEM has been just great in terms of supporting us with whatever we need in terms of capabilities to be able to manage the office.

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