THE MAGAZINE

Urban Area Perspective - Indianapolis

By Joseph Straw
Frank Straub, Ph.D., has served as director of the Indianapolis since December 2009, overseeing the city’s Metropolitan Police Department, Fire Department, Division of Homeland Security, and Animal Care and Control Division. He came to Indianapolis from White Plains, New York, where he served for seven years as police commissioner. There he and his force affected a 40 percent drop in serious crimes by employing community policing techniques and effective crime data analysis. Prior to serving as commissioner in White Plains, Straub was deputy commissioner of training for the New York Police Department (NYPD). With the NYPD Straub supervised a staff of 750 uniform and civilian personnel and was responsible for all recruit, promotional, in-service and executive training in the nation’s largest municipal police agency. He also was responsible for developing and implementing department-wide, first responder training for terrorist incidents, a program that became the model for police agencies throughout the New York metropolitan area. Straub subsequently served as the assistant commissioner of internal training in the NYPD’s Counter Terrorism Bureau. Straub’s professional experience also includes time with Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. He later served as executive deputy inspector general for the State of New York and as a special agent with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General. Straub earned his Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from the City University of New York and holds a master’s degree in forensic psychology and a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He has served as an adjunct assistant professor in the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Department of Public Management and has published several articles on statistics-based performance management. Straub has served as chair of the New York State Regional Community Policing Institute, as a member of the International Chiefs of Police Investigative Operations Committee, and as a member of the Police Executive Research Forum’s Terrorism Working Group.
 
Gary Coons is chief of the City of Indianapolis Division of Homeland Security, where he is responsible for administration and development of goals and procedures for all natural and man-made emergencies and major events for the City of Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana. He is also the joint field coordinator on safety and security for Super Bowl XLVI, scheduled for February 5, 2012 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Previously, Coons served as a trustee for Perry Township, Indiana, as a public and injury prevention officer with the Indianapolis Fire Department, and as an investigator with the Marion County Coroner’s Office. Coons earned his associate’s degree in public safety from Ivy Tech Community College and his Bachelor of Science degree in public safety and organizational leadership and supervision from Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. Coons is the founder of Firefighters with Parkinsons.org. He has been honored among Indianapolis’ Best and Brightest in Government in 2007 and 2008, was among the Indianapolis Business Journal’s IBJ Forty under 40, was named city Firefighter of the Year in 2003 and 2004, and is a recipient of the Indiana Governor’s Workplace Safety Award.

 

How has the city’s Department of Public Safety been reorganized in recent months?

 
Straub (On Left): In way of background I was a federal agent for 15 years. I started with the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security, went to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and then went to the Department of Justice for nine years, and then did a 3-year-stint in the New York State Inspector General’s office. Then I became the deputy commissioner of training for the New York Police Department (NYPD), and I participated in the rescue and the recovery from 9-11. I started on October 1, 2001 as the training director, so you can imagine, much of my work when I got to the NYPD was very much focused on counterterrorism training and on questions of recovery from 9-11, in particular the question of how to build cross-department training capacities for fire and police. The public safety community in New York City has very proud traditions and still to this day is unfortunately still pretty silo’ed. The police department does its thing and the fire department does its thing, and part of my job was to try to bridge some of those gaps, at least on the training end.
 
I left the NYPD and went up to White Plains, New York, and I was there for 7 ½ years. The White Plains Department of Public Safety is actually the oldest public safety department in the country. It was established in 1914. In White Plains there is one commissioner over the top of police, fire, and contracted EMS services. And we were very successful in a number of initiatives there, and one of them was really bridging the gap between police and fire services, particularly on the special operations end. We established a lot of cross-training between the police special operations people and the fire special operations people and actually had a joint command, which was a unified special operations command run by a police lieutenant and a fire deputy chief.
 
When I came here to Indianapolis I found a similar situation, with the director of public safety over police, fire, EMS, and animal control. It’s about a 3,200-person organization with a budget of about $500,000. The police department includes around 1,700 personnel, the fire department’s around 1,200, plus-or-minus, and animal care and control and EMS round out the agency. We provide public safety services to the consolidated city of Indianapolis, which includes the city and Marion County. That covers somewhere between 850,000 and 1 million people living and working within about 400-450 square miles. And as you know we have many large events here: the Indianapolis 500; the Brickyard 400; the Final Four for college basketball has been here for many years; and we will have the Super Bowl next year.
 
As we looked at the management of these big events, it became apparent to me that we needed to do something differently. The management of the major events and the planning was going well but I still saw some silos. And at that time we still had emergency management as a separate agency within public safety, but it was much more of a reactive organization than a proactive one. It did communication outreach, but it was really more about activating the sirens and putting things in place if and when a disaster hit.
 
We really weren’t looking at things proactively in terms of how to build capacity, how to put systems in place to mitigate risk: Were we dealing with the business community and business continuity issues? Were we really looking at government continuity issues? And Emergency Management was a relatively small agency, maybe 10 people. So they were pretty overwhelmed. And at the end of the day police, fire, and EMS were going to do their thing anyhow and they would be there in a minimally supportive role. So I made the decision to create a separate division in the department that brings together all of our police special operations people. The new Division of Homeland Security includes the bomb squad; the SWAT team; our emergency response group, which is like a disturbance control group; the canine unit; and the traffic unit all from the police side. From the fire side it includes our hazmat team, dive team, and technical rescue, as well as Indiana Task Force One, which is one of 27 FEMA urban search and rescue teams in the country. And Emergency Management became part of that group.
 
Coons: Under the director we’ve taken operational silos and knocked them down so that we’re all working together, especially with law enforcement and fire, such as handling the robots for explosive ordinance disposal and other missions. Previously, hazmat didn’t know really that there were these robots out there that could help them. The same goes for broader awareness about the police dive team. So what we’ve done is totally integrated and brought police and fire and emergency management all together, and now we have people from each agency doing their core tasks but jointly. Hazmat is training with SWAT and bomb. We’ll sit down police and firefighters on a post-blast investigative school at our training center down in southern Indiana so that they’re now working together, they’re training together, they have the same common knowledge. Police have longed to understand the incident command/national incident management system, which fire is already closely familiar with. What we’re doing is really integrating that into our citywide incident management system, we’re working toward creating a federally recognized incident management team that responds together: both police and fire and emergency management all working together within their own realms but on that same team.
 
Now, when we work events, we work collegially rather than separately. Each agency knows what each other agency is doing. We each work well on the radio together, and we’re creating a multi-agency coordination system that is somewhat unique because you have police and fire sitting at the same table. So we’re breaking down those barriers and bringing everybody together at the same level and working together.
 
We’re using the all-hazards approach so we’re not too focused on terrorism. We face many challenges in Indianapolis. One of our big challenges of the Super Bowl would be an ice storm. That is probably the highest-likelihood major-consequence scenario for that date—sort of our worst-case scenario, because it would take power out and affect travel. So we have to plan, and if we’re not planning together and we’re not sitting down together, then you’ll have confusion and frustration. So what we’ve done is we’ve integrated everybody together and we’re working together and offering resources that each agency has to provide a more enhanced level of service.
 
We’re also working toward turning our emergency operations center (EOC) into a more of a joint operations center that brings in our federal partners and the private sector. We’re working with companies like railroad operator CSX. CSX runs a railroad through downtown that passes right next to Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Colts play and where we’ll host Super Bowl XLVI. We have a great partnership with them and they have a homeland security division as well. They have agents that work the railroad and we’re working with them, very closely and trying to bring more of a collaborative effort and have them sit in the EOC as well. Then we have a partnership with our United Way that’s building a continuity of operations program that’s targeting both businesses and neighborhoods. The important thing is that they’re all working together versus working separately.
 
Straub: We’re bringing animal care and control into the EOC because as you know in Hurricane Katrina, one of the big issues down there were pets. People were either staying with their pets or trying to find their pets or pets being abandoned. So we actually will have, once the new EOC is built, a permanent animal care and control representative sitting there with us to deal with those kinds of issues, which would be pretty unique.
 
What’s interesting is, when you have something like the Indy 500, you have police, fire, EMS, the Indiana State Police, the FBI, the National Guard, and people from the track sitting in the EOC. The National Weather Service was a door down, and everyone can really walk-in, walk out of each other’s operations so that in the event there’s a storm coming we could track that storm and deal with evacuations. We had EMS partners sitting there so that if you had a medical call everyone would know. The purpose of this whole model is really to bring all of these people together on a very regular basis, both from a planning perspective, but then from an operational perspective.
 

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