TAMPA — In a projection screen-filled room, phones and placards dot 24 long tables. U.S. Secret Service. Department of Homeland Security. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Tampa Electric.
About 60 agencies will convene at this secret location during the Republican National Convention, working side-by-side to improve communication.
The Multi-Agency Communications Center isn't the hub of RNC security decision-making. Instead, it's a place to coordinate between agencies — similar to command centers pulled together when hurricanes hit. However, this time authorities had months to plan, which could be especially useful if Tropical Storm Isaac hits Tampa Bay.
The large screens can project traffic patterns, stream video from the cameras posted downtown and display power grid maps and breaking news reports.
If, for example, protesters have tampered with a fire hydrant, authorities can pull up a map and streaming video of the location and coordinate with public works officials and law enforcement to secure the area and repair the hydrant.
"We'll all be talking to each other, so we cut out a bunch of confusion," Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee said Thursday during a tour of the center.
Each agency, including the FBI, will have a separate command center for its decision-making.
Tampa FBI special agent in charge Steven Ibison said Thursday that the FBI's roles during the convention will be intelligence-gathering and crisis management.
So far, the FBI has not gathered information of planned terrorist attacks during the convention, Ibison said.
"At this point, it's just the anarchists' criminal activity," he said.
And though Isaac, the storm passing through the Caribbean, has an uncertain path, the communications center is poised to work emergency management.
FEMA has a "mobile operations vehicle" posted outside the center. State and local emergency management agencies also will have seats at the table.
"From a hurricane standpoint," Gee said, "this is not a scramble for us."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.