TAMPA — Military aircraft will take to the skies today to practice their response should any planes stray into — or invade — restricted airspace during the Republican National Convention.
Fighter jets from the Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, or NORAD, will conduct the hourlong exercise starting around 9 a.m. Participating will be Air Force F-15s, plus the Civil Air Patrol, Air National Guard C-21 aircraft and a Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin helicopter.
The exercise is designed to sharpen NORAD's intercept and identification operations.
"Planning for and providing the air defense for special security events, like this year's Republican National Convention, are a part of our everyday mission," said Col. Randy Spear, commander of the 601st Air and Space Operations Center, which is responsible for detecting, deterring, defending and, if necessary, defeating aviation threats to the United States.
During the convention, Air Force fighter jets will enforce the Federal Aviation Administration's temporary flight restriction zone in the Tampa Bay area.
Suspicious materials under investigation
Tampa police confiscated bricks found on a downtown rooftop last week, suspecting them to be violent protesters' ammunition.
And in recent weeks, there has been talk of other discoveries of potentially offensive materials.
So far, however, neither the Tampa Police Department nor the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is confirming any additional seizures.
Police Chief Jane Castor said part of the reason is that investigations are ongoing.
Also, police don't want to incorrectly assume that a particular item was meant to be used as a weapon.
"It could have just been dumped," Castor said. Still, she asks residents to look out for suspicious items as the convention approaches — "and call us."
Website publishes officials' addresses
Opposition to Tampa's decision to host the RNC is getting personal.
City officials recently have seen their home addresses published on two websites critical of the RNC and anyone who supports it.
The addresses posted have included those of Mayor Bob Buckhorn, five of seven City Council members, several top police officials and private sector individuals associated with the convention.
The practice is known as "doxing," according to Sam Rosenfeld, an expert on protester culture who runs the Densus Group, a consulting firm whose specialties include planning for large protests.
The tactic of using the Internet to research and publish personal details about police isn't new, Rosenfeld blogged on SecurityDebrief.com this week. It's common in Europe and has been used in the United States over the past year. It's even being used regularly now by protesters in Bahrain.
In Florida, the addresses of law enforcement officials are exempt from state public records to protect them from people with grudges.
But one website published police administrators' addresses Monday under a link labeled "pigs."
On Thursday, police Chief Jane Castor was unfazed.
"If people really want to find me, they can," she said. "I don't even worry about it."
Castor said she doesn't plan to monitor all the addresses next week. If protesters go to police officials' houses, she says, "I don't know what they'd expect to accomplish."
Council member Frank Reddick, whose address also was posted, said he has changed his plans for the week.
"It's scary," he said.
Today and Saturday are expected to be the peak travel days for conventioneers arriving at Tampa International Airport.
"We will have 50,000 visitors coming through this facility, and they will get their first and last impression of Tampa Bay based on what we've done out here," said airport chief executive officer Joe Lopano.
To greet them, TIA has invested tens of millions of dollars in improvements and will put out fresh flowers, banners and elephants painted by everyone from local artists to elementary school kids.
It also is bringing in volunteers and entertainment, with the Hudson Middle School Jazz Band scheduled to start this afternoon.
In coming days, welcoming acts will include a barbershop quartet, puppeteers, a steel drum band, a strolling accordionist, magicians, choirs and singing pirates from Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433. Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.