High-tech security covers GOP convention

When Texas Gov. George W. Bush received the Republican Party's nomination

last week for president of the United States, he did so under a protective

umbrella of five high-tech command centers designed to prevent and respond

to terrorist attacks or natural disasters.

Staff members from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, working

with the Secret Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal,

state and local security agencies, established primary command centers in

the Philadelphia region during the convention. An alternate center was established

at Willow Grove Naval Air Station in Horsham, Pa.

The goal was to ensure a coordinated and rapid response to "nuclear, biological,

chemical and civil disturbance events, as well as potential weather-related

disaster events," according to FEMA's classified Federal Response Plan.

Officials estimated that the total number of people in and around the

First Union Center in Philadelphia would be more than 35,000. Given such

a large, compact crowd, planners placed a premium on incident reporting

and timely response coordination, according to the Federal Response Plan.

"A potential event may be terrorist- oriented and include the use of

an improvised device with conventional explosive capability or with [nuclear,

biological or chemical] capability," the plan stated. "Civil unrest, civil

disorder or crowd control, or a natural or technological disaster occurring

anywhere within the metropolitan Philadelphia area may compound the situation

and incident response."

Security officials began to set up the high-tech monitoring effort on

July 28 — three days before the convention. One of the primary sites established

was the Secret Service's Multi-Agency Communication Center (MACC). The

EPA and Secret Service officials staffed the MACC around-the-clock during

the convention.

A Secret Service spokesman said the agency devised the MACC concept

during the 1997 presidential inauguration. "We put all of these agency representatives

in one location, gave them access to a gigantic screen and used a local-area

[and wide-area] network to link them together," the spokesman said. "So

when something happens, everybody captures it at the same time, which eliminates

questions about who to contact, because everybody knows about it."

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