What other assets and threats make your region unique?
Straub: We are the 14th largest city in the country, and we have a lot of other major events that people don’t even know about. We have over 360 a year, from the Indianapolis Convention Center to the Indianapolis 500 that create a “soft target” effect. And all of our events are downtown: Colts games, minor league baseball games, and men’s and women’s pro basketball. We have several universities; we have Eli Lilly and Company’s and other corporate headquarters here. We’re referred to as “The Crossroads of America” We have a major transportation system, linking us to Chicago and St. Louis. So that brings tremendous activity through and around Indianapolis, the state capitol is here, so the governor resides in the city as well as the capitol being here and the legislature and so on and so forth.
What is the greatest challenge in your office’s mission?
Coons: Our staff and our resources are limited. The perception out there is that the government knows all and sees all and can do all, but it becomes very hard when funds are limited. That’s why the director’s vision is integration, not just an integrated Division of Homeland Security but integrated public safety. So now, instead of 1,700 police officers we’re working with 3,000 personnel, making operations more effective and more efficient. As these dollars become more limited we have better means and better resources, and we’re collaborating and listening to our other partners at all levels of government. We have a great relationship with our National Guard. Our National Guard Civil Support Team—which is a weapons of mass destruction team—they’re at every Colts game. We’re a truly integrated system and they work as part of our joint hazard assessment teams. So our partnership with our National Guard is tremendous, and some members who have been transferred here, they say that they’ve never dealt with such a great partnership.
Beyond joint operations, how does your office cope with growing fiscal constraints?
Straub: Certainly the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grants are dropping across the county. Also here the money is being dispersed to a larger area. It used to just go to Indianapolis, Marion County and Hamilton County. Now under DHS guidelines the state has taken a more regional approach, so the seven counties contiguous to Marion County are all included in the UASI funding. That has cut the pot of money available for us, but at the same time it’s building regional capacity so it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Certainly as in other parts of the country, our municipal budget is suffering. We are lucky that we have not been hit as hard as other parts of the country. We’re still relatively stable although we’ve had to take about a 2 ½ percent budget reduction this year, but that’s not causing us to lay off personnel or reduce services significantly. So we’re holding our own on that level right now.
What is the region’s greatest success in its mission?
Straub: I think for me it’s the level of cooperation between all the agencies. The collaboration between the local agencies, the state agencies, and the federal agencies has really been tremendous. Our cooperation with the private sector has also been outstanding. We’re closely involved in the planning of the Super Bowl. I’m on the Board of Directors for the Super Bowl Committee, which creates opportunities to meet with and discuss overall security and public safety issues with the private sector. So we really have strong partnerships here, which I think at the end of the day helps us with our day-to day operations and our handling of routine emergencies. Because this new Division of Homeland Security really allows us to ramp up and work collectively and cohesively when we have these large events.
Coons: If we didn’t have these partnerships, like my partnership with the State Police, a lot of these events would not run as smoothly as they do. And being that the Indianapolis 500 is really a private event, they’re willing to work with us and allow us to access to whatever we need, and they’ve been very cooperative over the last year in enhancing that partnership and building up on it. And as we move forward to an event like the Super Bowl, it’s critical for us to work with our partners in building better relationships. And, not just for the Super Bowl but as we move forward in this era of limiting budgets, technology and partnerships is what provides us capabilities to maintain capabilities.
Are the partnerships institutionalized?
Coons: That’s what we’re working on. We have a Local Emergency Planning Committee, and that is the private partnership. Our big companies, power company, our Eli Lillys, are really involved, and our smaller companies, such as our hotels, are also involved. We are working with them and coming up with ways to integrate them into our EOC so they would have a position to maintain continuity of operations in emergencies while also integrating with us.
How would you characterize your relationships with federal partners?
Straub: The relationship with the FBI and the Secret Service are absolutely outstanding. Coming from the New York area I have to say that the partnerships here are exemplary. There is just outstanding sharing of information in real time, very open and honest communications with our federal partners, joint training occurs on a very regular basis. The FBI SWAT guys work with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department SWAT team; we do a lot of training with the State Police. It’s really a good partnership.
Coons: We signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and they’re providing funding for our overtime for our Arson Task Force. They’re also integrating our new operations center where they are providing funding for space to set up their technologies and their operations as well. And they’re going to provide us a vehicle that has very elaborate, unique technology that will help on arson teams. We’re one of the first four or five cities to sign this kind of MOU with them, and when we talk about limited funding and having an arson team, sometimes arson cases take days to solve, and when you’re very limited in overtime and you have a federal agency coming in and offering you that assistance and that funding to pay for your own personnel to stay on the case, it is a tremendous partnership. We’re looking to build upon it with similar type agreements with the FBI and Secret Service.
Have these experiences generated any valuable lessons learned?
Coons: In a growing city, the more concrete you put down, the more buildings you put up—the water’s got to go somewhere. The lesson-learned is that as they’re applying for permits to build new neighborhoods or to put up new buildings, we have to look at the long-term effects. How much concrete are you putting down? Is there a retention pond? Is there somewhere for the rainwater to go if we have a large rain storm instead of it just going to a low lying area where a residential area will be? So we’re trying to hit it on the front end versus the back end, and work with our Metropolitan Development Committee and advise them on looking at the long term effects of putting that much of a building or that much concrete down. What does it need to ensure that if we have large rain storms or large water effects that the water would have somewhere to go rather than into a large residential area?
What are some of your offices major goals going forward?
Straub: The major goal is development of the new EOC, plus we’re redoing or will redo our computer-aided dispatch (CAD) communications system, our records management system, and we just switched to automated license plate readers that we have those in several police vehicles now throughout the city. We’re making our camera system much more robust, we’re doing some technology stuff in terms of modeling, and we’re using the WebEOC platform.
Coons: WebEOC is a web-based application that provides officials a real-time understanding of what’s going on. We’ve integrated our CAD feed into this WebEOC so that the CAD automatically feeds it at a level that has multiple agencies, then they already have information ready for them to start entering more data and verify that they’re up to date on what’s going on. We’re moving toward this kind of a real-time fusion concept where operators, officials and detective and fire officials can find real-time data. The City of Indianapolis isn’t immune to the challenges posed by legacy databases. But now instead of a detective or arson investigator having to look in different databases and look in different files, they can go to one simple application and pull that data from those different servers into a simple view so that they can pull out the data they need to help on their case or help with the incident. And we’re also doing some modeling. We’re trying to move into a predictable-type policing, predictable-type EMS model, based on spotting “heat” trends to predict where you might want to place ambulances more because you’re likely to have more runs, or you’re likely to have more crime in that area.