THE MAGAZINE

Urban Area Perspective - Denver

By Joseph Straw

Daniel T. Alexander has served as Director of the City and County of Denver’s Mayor's Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security since 2008. Appointed just before that year’s Democratic National Convention, which was hosted by the Mile-High City, he helped complete the city’s integrated emergency management and business continuity plans in time for the event. Before moving to Denver, Alexander served as the city of Milwaukee’s first homeland security director. During two years in that post, he developed the city’s emergency management program and managed Milwaukee’s security planning, exercising and funding initiatives. He also created and managed the city’s continuity of operations plan. A police officer by trade, Alexander joined the Milwaukee Police Department in 1993 as an officer and was promoted to Sergeant in 1998. He was named administrative lieutenant of police in 2004 and was promoted the next year to lieutenant of police, a role in which he oversaw planning and coordination of the department’s efforts funded by federal homeland security grants. Alexander earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Criminal Justice from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

 

Q. What are the responsibilities of your office?

 
A. In the City and County of Denver we have combined the homeland security and emergency management functions in our office. I manage the city’s emergency operations plan, the city’s operations center, and the emergency operations center (EOC) when it’s activated; and we coordinate with all of the city agencies and the city’s emergency support function leads. We’re also the central point of contact for all major emergency planning initiatives, including consequence management planning and special event planning. We help coordinate that. So if we have a major event like the Democratic National Convention (DNC), though that was certainly something out of the ordinary, my planning team will coordinate with the other major city agencies in putting together special event plans as well. We also do citizen education, citizen outreach, with preparedness training for our citizens within the city.
 
On the homeland security side we also handle grant management, so we are the fiscal agent that manages the Denver region’s federal Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant funds, about $7 million a year. This year we’ve just started a critical infrastructure program as part of our homeland security mission. I’m fortunate enough to have representatives in my office from the Denver Fire and Police departments, assigned here full-time, who are involved in the critical infrastructure program, which entails going out to our identified critical infrastructure sites, making contact with them, doing vulnerability assessments through the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS)Automated Critical Asset Management Systemtool, then doing joint planning within the goal of making sure that we also incorporate them in exercises.
 

Q. What assets and threats make your region unique?

 
A. Certainly in the Denver metro area we have same the assets and hazards as any major population center. We got major convention and sporting venues here—Denver’s a very large convention city—and the region’s also tourist center. So between the sporting events of Coors Field and Invesco Field at Mile High, the Pepsi Center, and the Denver Convention Center just in the immediate downtown area, all provide high value for a large population, so they’re certainly concerns for us. We also house some very large industries, especially in the technology sector, communications, and energy sector, which have major operations right in the central business district downtown.
 
In addition, we’re responsible for Denver International Airport (DIA). I believe it’s now the fourth busiest airport in the country, the sixth busiest in the world, and largest airport by landmass in the country. It’s a major operation out there. It’s hub for three different airlines. So we work very closely with our partners at DIA.
 
We also have the Denver Federal Center. Here in the Denver metro area we’ve got the largest concentration of federal employees in the country outside the beltway. It’s located just outside the City and County of Denver, but certainly it has an impact on us as the regional headquarters for the federal government for the Rocky Mountains-west, and it’s a high concentration of federal assets there. In addition we have facilities like the Denver Mint, the U.S. mint located right in the middle of downtown Denver, right across the street from me, actually. These are the kind of targets that we certainly need to be concerned about.
 
So between our service sector and economy, some of those high-population density targets we want to make sure that we have enough planning and “leaning forward” in place.
 
As far as natural hazards, this is Colorado so we’re certainly concerned about weather. We’ve experienced some significant snow storms. A couple of years ago back—though I wasn’t here at the time—the region faced feet of snow in a blizzard that posed a challenge for this city and for the region. Tornado activity is always a threat. We’ve had quite an active year this last summer of thunderstorm and tornado activity, although we had no touchdowns within the City and County of Denver, we did certainly just outside our borders of Denver. So the weather is a big threat for us as well.
 

Q. What is the greatest challenge of your mission?

 
A. I think that we’re making great strides in providing citizen education in preparedness to our citizen groups, but challenges persist. We have a very healthy involvement, not only in the metro area but outside Denver with attention to citizen preparedness. It is disheartening, though, then when studies and surveys that show that it’s been difficult to translate that training into actual practice and everyday life for citizens, in that very few of them know what to do to prepare and respond. Very few of them actually put into practice what they’ve been trained on as far as personal planning and building personal preparedness kits, so the efforts to sustain that citizen involvement and training efforts is a challenge. We have to find clever ways of building that up, and that means including our citizen groups in more of training and exercise activities, providing additional programming, and integrating them a little bit more into homeland security and emergency management.
 
Also, we’ve got good relationships with elements of the private sector in the region, but we need to better integrate the private sector, especially critical infrastructure operators, and in particular those that are important in response and recovery. How do we better communicate with them as government and they with us? Working through information sharing information with them and making sure that they have their needs met, sometimes can be a challenge, and that takes continual work.
 

Q. What is the region’s administrative process for UASI funds?

 
A. It’s kind of an interesting situation here in the Denver metro area. The State of Colorado has divided the state up into homeland security regions for administering DHS Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) funds, and also for homeland security planning purposes. The Denver metro area fits into the North Central Region. That covers ten counties of the metro area. So all of the state HSGP funds go through our regional board. The Denver UASI is a smaller footprint within that region. So we have a couple of different funding streams coming in, the state’s HSGP funds going through that regional coordinator to cover the ten-county area, and then on the UASI side, we manage the funds for the four-county UASI jurisdiction. But instead of working in isolation, we work very closely with our partners at the ten-county regional level. We’ve combined our committee structure, we have committees built upon our target capabilities, and we agree on projects that the UASI will fund and that the HSGP will fund though the region. We’ve also done joint planning to ensure coordination across the various programs so we’re leveraging for common projects that are agreed upon by the entire region.
 

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