THE MAGAZINE

Unconventional Cooperation

By Brian M. Van Hise

Forming a Partnership
 
The Denver Public-Private Partnership (DP3) had its first formal meeting in August 2007, after the city was selected to host the next year’s DNC. This gave the police and the private sector 12 months to coordinate efforts and prepare for the upcoming federally designated National Security Event.
 
DP3 was first conceived two years earlier when Denver Police Chief Gerald Whitman and Gargan considered establishing the city’s own version of New York City’s Area Police Private Security Liaison program. But IT connectivity problems between the Denver city officials’ communications systems and the private sector’s systems initially stalled the effort.
 
In 2007, ignoring the communication problems bogging down the program, Gargan and Rock co-hosted DP3’s first meeting. The event was attended by 75 people, many of whom were meeting their public or private sector counterparts for the first time. Not only did the Denver Police Department’s Intelligence and Operations Planning Unit attend, but so did the FBI-led regional Joint Terrorism Task Force; the Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC), which is the state’s intelligence fusion center; and Team Rubicon, the Colorado State Patrol’s critical infrastructure unit.
 
Private sector attendees included both contract and proprietary security managers, ASIS members, and Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International members. The group then began to meet every month—and grow.
As discussions progressed, DP3 realized it needed to focus on two elements before the DNC: better communications between the public and private sectors and more training.
 
Communications
 
How was DP3 to establish relevant and timely communications between the EOC and private security during the DNC? The initial plan relied on text and e-mail messaging. Lists were made and test alerts were sent. However, the plan faced some major hurdles. One was that membership and e-mail addresses changed frequently, making it difficult for the city’s police department to keep distribution lists current. Another problem was that these types of communication were only one-way. How was the private sector to communicate back? Finally, many participants’ spam filters discarded e-mails before they even reached their inboxes.
 
A new approach was needed so that sensitive information gathered by law enforcement could be vetted by a public-safety official and distributed in a timely manner to private-sector security, with the ability for recipients to communicate information back up the pipeline as well.
 
The solution came from another public-private effort, the Colorado Emergency Preparedness Partnership (CEPP), a statewide group established in Spring 2008, with assistance from Business Executives for National Security (BENS) and seeded with funding from local philanthropic organizations.
 
In terms of preparing the community for disaster, CEPP had recognized that there was a huge gap between what businesses would do and what the public-safety sector would do. “[W]ith the Democratic National Convention coming to Denver, we had an urgent mission ahead of us to fill that gap,” says Sue Mencer, co-managing director of the CEPP.
 
A first step toward closing that gap was taken in May 2008 when BOMA hosted a DNC tabletop exercise where 250 attendees discussed how they would handle a worst-case scenario. They went through what might happen if unruly crowds became violent and destructive. During an open forum afterward, the dominant question from the audience was: “How are we going to communicate with each other if something does go horribly wrong?”
 
In the audience, Robert Edson, MissionMode Solutions’ vice president for the western United States, grew frustrated with the lack of systemized communication between the public and private sectors. Audience members asked where they would receive real-time information during the convention. “The best advice anyone could give anyone in the room was to watch the news,” Edson says. “That was really an unacceptable answer to me.”
 
Edson’s Cottage Grove, Minnesota-based company provides customizable Web-based information-sharing and crisis-management tools. MissionMode can set up its page-based forums—or situation rooms, as it calls them—almost instantly, and offer password-protected access to approved users. Information updates are posted by users with administrative access, and alerts are sent out by whatever medium the administrator or recipient chooses: SMS text messages, e-mail, fax, or automated voice call. Administrators can require receipt confirmation on messages, and perhaps most important, users can send text or data—such as photographs—back to administrators for posting to the entire group.
 
After the BOMA exercise, Edson met with Pam Pfeifer, then executive director of CEPP. MissionMode set up a portal through which CEPP could make information available to participants.
 
“We went out and began securing, through the CEPP, membership and involvement for communications,” Edson explains. He was surprised to see not just an interest from the private sector, but public entities were also subscribing to the system for key, up-to-date information. Officials from Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department, and Centennial Airport were quick to join. According to Edson, more than 90 different organizations joined, representing more than 200 individual members.
 
The result was the Business Emergency Operations Center (BEOC), a secure, virtual, invitation-based online forum where subscribers could receive instant alerts from the EOC as well as respond with valuable feedback to the EOC and to other participants.
 
The inner-core of the DNC’s information-sharing apparatus was a highly secure law-enforcement-only forum where local, state, and federal officials shared sensitive intelligence. When their intelligence had to get to the private business and security sector, a public-safety officer communicated this intelligence to the CEPP operator in the EOC. That information was then disseminated to the business/security forums within BEOC.
 
The CEPP then monitored feedback from business and private security regarding the intelligence sent down as well as regarding any new intelligence businesses might have gathered that could be given to law enforcement. All agencies operating within the EOC had access to the BEOC.
 
How effective was this BEOC during the convention? “The first notifications came in from our private sector,” Edson says. “Private security partners had come across a stash of what they believed to be cached protestor weapons.”
 
Rock recalls receiving information about the caches in alleys, often marked with distinctive graffiti close by. “Everywhere we would find stashes of rocks or bottles or urine and feces in bottles and bags. That’s when the information went out: ‘Start looking for these types of markings.’” Private security began photographing the markings and posting them on the BEOC so other organizations could become more familiar with what to look for.
 
Pam Sillars, also co-managing director of the CEPP confirms: “We sent out the notice to the business partners, and they were able to go around and identify where [the caches] were, and they took them away. So, when the demonstrators were ready to go pick up their little projects there, they were gone.”
 
During the melee Monday night, police used the BEOC to ask all the buildings downtown to go into lockdown mode. “We asked that all private security bring their people in and secure their buildings until we [could] get this situation resolved,” Rock says.
 
Edson was stationed in the EOC at the time. “We sent out an alert to all members of the BEOC: ‘We have a large group of protesters moving in your area. You need to lock down your buildings immediately as requested by the Denver Police Department.’”
 
The effect of the lockdown was immediate: the protesters had no buildings to duck into and hide from police. As the protesters realized they were being cordoned off, the phony 911 calls began in an attempt to divert police.
 
DP3 was able to overcome its public-private sector communication hurdles by latching on to what had already been designed for CEPP by MissionMode. The result was a resounding success during the DNC. The BEOC is still activated from time to time—during wildfires, in relation to the swine flu outbreak, and during major civic events like Taste of Denver. The program enjoys a large membership of business and security partners in the Denver metro area.

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