Tuesday, February 20, 2018
News Roundup

High-level meeting focuses on Tampa Bay area's readiness for GOP convention

TAMPA — Tampa Bay area officials got some high-level advice Wednesday on being ready for the truly major event, whether it's a hurricane or the Republican National Convention.

The four-hour "executive awareness" session at the Tampa Convention Center brought together the mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg, the FBI, top law enforcement brass, public communications officials, fire rescue chiefs and other officials from both sides of Tampa Bay.

For the meeting, preparedness educators from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey, Calif., brought in officials who had worked major events such as national political conventions and the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle.

"There's an awful lot of things you don't know," said Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill, who has already said that County Center will close for two weeks coinciding with the convention this August. "Their big message was, 'Just make sure you communicate with each other.' "

Having compatible technology was part of that takeaway, and it's something local officials have worked on in preparation for the Aug. 27-30 GOP convention.

In March, Tampa officials moved ahead with a $6 million purchase of radios for both local and out-of-town officers working the convention.

The idea is to put everyone on the same communications system, which didn't happen at the 2008 GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn.

Another case study discussed Wednesday was the WTO meeting in Seattle, which was badly disrupted by thousands of protesters rioting in the streets.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the group heard how Seattle officials had predicted business as usual for their downtown during the event, while also inviting protesters in to exercise their First Amendment rights and encouraging residents to head downtown to do holiday shopping.

What Buckhorn took away was the need to make expectations clear — that while Tampa will be open for business during the convention, no one should claim it will be business as usual.

At the same time, federal officials also sought to assess the region's preparedness for handling a large, multiday convention.

"Bottom line, this was a leadership-level meeting to review how the region responds to large-scale events and emergencies and to advise the federal agencies who will be with us in August," Hillsborough County communications director Lori Hudson said. "It was pretty much a review of how we do things."

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