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GSN Exclusive -- Security plans for GOP convention in Tampa this summer are taking shape

Site of 2012 GOP
convention in Tampa

Al Concordia, the director of security for the Republican National Convention, which will be held in Tampa, FL, August 27-30, intends to rely more on the “human physical presence” of police officers and the U.S. Secret Service, and less on state-of-the-art high-resolution video surveillance cameras, sophisticated biometrics or advanced screening equipment, as has become common at recent political conventions

“We’ll have our personnel -- along with the police and the Secret Service -- to perform the function of access control, both ingress and egress,” Concordia told Government Security News, during an exclusive telephone interview conducted on March 23. He emphasized that the GOP’s committee on arrangements plans to rely on the existing locks, alarms and cameras that currently serve the Tampa Bay Times Forum, a hockey arena that is home to the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.

Concordia says he is confident that his security personnel will be able to handle access control inside the arena, which will be able to accommodate between 25,000 and 30,000 attendees at peak moments, “because all of the people will have been screened by magnetometers operated by the Secret Service.”

He noted that the precise physical configuration planned for the arena has not yet been finalized, but assured delegates that, “wherever you are, you’ll have a good bird’s-eye-view of the podium.”

The precise definition of the “secure area” that will encompass the Tampa Bay Times Forum (where the actual convention will be held) and the Tampa Convention Center, located about 200 yards away (which will house thousands of visiting journalists), has yet to be determined, Concordia told GSN. “That’s for the Secret Service to decide,” explained Concordia, who spent about two decades as a Secret Service agent earlier in his career. “The Secret Services decides what the secured area will be, and how it will move out from the center.”

Concordia has been putting together a security plan for the convention that he believes will be able to cope with any sudden turn of events. “You can offer up any hypotheticals you like,” he told GSN, “but the bottom line is, we’ll be prepared for it.”

When asked what plans he might be putting together to deal with the possible assembly in Tampa of hundreds or thousands of protestors -- whether from Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party or any other group -- Concordia was short on specifics. Asked if the GOP or the Tampa police had received any formal requests for permits from any outside groups, or whether anyone had announced plans to camp out in the city during convention week, Concordia said, “I don’t have any information in that area.”

He emphasized that the GOP’s primary mission in Tampa is to pick a presidential nominee, and that he was less concerned about the possibility of protesters who might assemble peacefully. “Everybody has a voice,” he told GSN, “and we respect their first amendment right to free speech.”

The possibility that the Republican Party’s presidential nominee actually may not have been determined by the time delegates begin streaming into Tampa -- and that a tempestuous floor fight might break out among competing candidates -- also did not seem to alarm the convention’s security director, whose impressive resume includes security stints as an executive with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, as the Assistant Sergeant at Arms for the U.S. Senate and as a longtime Secret Service agent.

He envisions that security inside the arena “will look very much like you would see at a game event.” Even if political temperatures rise, he does not anticipate troubles with the delegates.

“Delegates are like members of Congress,” he told GSN, drawing a comparison between the upcoming convention and a session on Capitol Hill. “It’s very similar to how Congress works.”    

Concordia will speak about security at the GOP Convention – a few weeks after it has concluded – at the 2012 ASIS International Seminar and Exhibits, which will take place in Philadelphia on September 10-13.

Concordia said the GOP has a strong, strategic security plan that’s been built on a good foundation. “The hard part is building relationships across federal, state and local channels,” he acknowledged. “But, whether we ratchet up security, or keep it at normal levels,” Concordia concluded, “we want to be able to call an audible.”


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