Security Management interviews Dr. Frank Straub, director of public safety for the City of Indianapolis, and Gary Coons, chief of Indianapolis' Division of Homeland Security.
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.
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.