Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Local concerns raised about emergency planning for 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa

TAMPA — Planning for all the emergencies that could befall next year's Republican National Convention — everything from a hurricane to a terrorist attack to a fire at the port — is a team effort.

But 10 months out, some members of the team want to know more about the game plan. On their list: getting timetables for planning, training and sharing information.

"We have been asking for several months," Polk County emergency management director Pete McNally said. "The information we've been getting is that that's in the hands of the Secret Service and some other folks who will be working those plans out."

It's not that Tampa and Hillsborough officials are withholding anything, said Rich Shepard, the emergency management director for Hardee County, the southernmost county on a multi-agency committee planning for emergency management.

It's more like they're not in the loop yet themselves.

This week, those concerns reached Washington, D.C.

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, raised the issue during a closed-door briefing at the House Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications.

Bilirakis, who chairs the subcommittee, invited officials from the Secret Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency to give an update on convention planning.

At the briefing, Bilirakis brought up "concerns he has heard from local officials in Tampa that emergency management officials have not been sufficiently included in the planning process," according to a summary released by his office.

Told of Bilirakis' comments, Secret Service spokesman George Ogilvie noted that FEMA and the Florida Division of Emergency Management "are actively involved in the planning process."

Moreover, the executive steering committee that works with subcommittees on a wide range of security topics includes federal, state and local officials.

"It's a team concept," he said.

Tampa's top convention planner said he was unaware of the concerns Bilirakis mentioned but said a lot of the planning hinges on two things.

The first is the congressional appropriation of $55 million that Tampa has requested for convention security.

The second is the establishment of the convention's security perimeter by the Secret Service.

"Those are the big missing links that we need to land," said Santiago Corrada, chief of staff for Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "When they land, we can answer a whole lot of questions."

Until then, city officials are trying to make sure the planning committees include representatives from as many other jurisdictions as possible.

"Everybody's engaged here, but we work with the information that we have," Corrada said. If someone has raised concerns "in frustration, I can understand, because we're all waiting."

Once the Secret Service makes its decisions, "we'll roll it out," he said.

For now, the Secret Service is not talking about the security perimeter or when it will be decided or announced, Ogilvie said.

Scheduled for Aug. 27 to Aug. 30 at the St. Pete Times Forum, the convention is expected to draw 50,000 visitors to Tampa, including up to 10,000 protesters.

During this week's congressional briefing, Secret Service and FEMA officials said it was good that Tampa was designated as the convention site earlier than past conventions.

That, they said, has given preparation and coordination a welcome head start.

So far, the executive steering committee has met about 20 times.

Federal officials expect to hold three or four "table-top" exercises before the convention to anticipate and prepare for various scenarios.

In addition, officials have established a multi-agency communications center that includes representatives from 80 different agencies, including telecommunications companies.

Not every Tampa Bay area emergency management official said they're concerned about the planning process. Officials in Tampa and Pinellas and Pasco counties said it's not an issue.

But Pasco County emergency operations coordinator Jim Johnston said it's only natural for people in his line of work to want to know as much as they can as soon as they can.

"We're ready to go to work," said Shepard, the Hardee County official.

For example, officials outside Tampa Bay need to plan to have emergency responders ready to "backfill" in case Tampa and Hillsborough fire rescue crews are tied up with the convention.

"I realize that we're still a little ways out, but I think we need to be in that process as soon as practical" once federal officials make their decisions, he said. "It's going to require a great deal of coordination even as far south as here."

Richard Danielson can be reached at or (813) 226-3403.

Local concerns raised about emergency planning for 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa 11/04/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 4, 2011 11:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trump sprinkles political attacks into Scout Jamboree speech

    GLEN JEAN, W.Va. — Ahead of President Donald Trump's appearance Monday at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, the troops were offered some advice on the gathering's official blog: Fully hydrate. Be "courteous" and "kind." And avoid the kind of divisive chants heard during the 2016 campaign such as "build …

    President Donald Trump addresses the Boy Scouts of America's 2017 National Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, W.Va., July 24, 2017. [New York Times]
  2. Trump, seething about attorney general, speculates about firing Sessions, sources say

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has spoken with advisers about firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as he continues to rage against Sessions' decision to recuse himself from all matters related to the Russia investigation.

  3. John McCain to return to Senate for health care vote

    WASHINGTON — The Senate plans to vote Tuesday to try to advance a sweeping rewrite of the nation's health-care laws with the last-minute arrival of Sen. John McCain — but tough talk from President Donald Trump won no new public support from skeptical GOP senators for the flagging effort that all but …

  4. Last orca calf born in captivity at a SeaWorld park dies


    ORLANDO — The last killer whale born in captivity under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program died Monday at the company's San Antonio, Texas, park, SeaWorld said.

    Thet orca Takara helps guide her newborn, Kyara, to the water's surface at SeaWorld San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas, in April. Kyara was the final killer whale born under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program. The Orlando-based company says 3-month-old Kyara died Monday. [Chris Gotshall/SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment via AP]
  5. Blake Snell steps up, but Rays lose to Orioles anyway (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell stepped up when he had to Monday and delivered an impressive career-high seven-plus innings for the Rays. That it wasn't enough in what ended up a 5-0 loss to the Orioles that was their season-high fifth straight is symptomatic of the mess they are in right now.

    Tim Beckham stands hands on hips after being doubled off first.