Tampa to provide RNC protesters with water, toilets and cooling misters

Published Aug. 2, 2012

TAMPA — Whatever their differences, the 15,000 protesters and 4,000 law enforcement officers who meet outside the Republican National Convention will have a common enemy — Tampa's swampy August heat.

They'll also have a common ally — a relief effort organized by the city of Tampa, the Salvation Army and the Hillsborough County Health Department.

Local officials plan to have about 50,000 gallons of water on hand for police and protesters alike. Hypothetically, there will be enough of it to give a bottle to everyone in Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace, with a few thousand to spare.

But the relief won't stop there.

Tampa officials also will place 575 to 600 portable toilets with hand sanitizer dispensers at three spots around downtown for public use.

And the Health Department is borrowing 10 misting stations normally used for hurricane relief to cool down protesters, officers, police dogs and horses.

Of particular concern are unsuspecting visitors from outside Florida.

"I don't know that folks really comprehend the humidity and the heat and how quickly one can get dehydrated and disoriented, with potentially catastrophic results," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. Keeping people hydrated should reduce the stress on emergency medical responders and hospitals.

Providing the relief is expected to cost the city $115,000. The city does not expect its $50 million federal grant for convention security to cover these costs, so it will use some form of general city revenue.

It's still a bargain, Buckhorn said.

"It would cost us a lot more to have to transport somebody in a fire rescue vehicle," he said. "Whatever investment we make in keeping people hydrated — irrespective of their political views — I think just makes sense."

The Salvation Army got involved with the effort at the request of Tampa Fire Rescue and emergency management officials.

For the charity, supporting the city with drinking water fits its humanitarian mission, according to Kevin Smith, director of emergency disaster services at the Salvation Army's state divisional headquarters. It's not the type of the event that's important for the charity. Rather, it's the need of the first responders and the community.

So even as the Salvation Army has served victims of Tropical Storm Debby, it has worked with donors nationwide to line up about 400,000 bottles of water. The city is paying shipping costs of about $40,000. At the comfort stations, the plan is to distribute the water in paper cups.

Bringing in the portable toilets will cost the city another $75,000. Along with the water, the toilets will go to three areas:

• Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park, the city's designated location for spontaneously organized rallies.

• Near Nebraska Avenue under the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

• Under the expressway at Washington Street, near the staging area for the official parade route.

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City officials also plan to make water available at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, Lykes Gaslight Square Park and Perry Harvey Park, which is the rallying spot for a 5,000-person demonstration being organized for Aug. 27 by the Coalition to March on the RNC. The water will be free, with distribution from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

"I'm glad the city is providing water," coalition organizer Jared Hamil said, "because being out there for more than a few hours, you're going to get crispy."

Tampa officials also will provide some shade in the form of the expressway itself. The city is leasing land under the expressway for one of its designated protest areas. Finding a shaded spot wasn't necessarily the plan, but Buckhorn said "it made sense the more we looked at it."

The Health Department is borrowing the misting stations from the Florida Department of Health in Tallahassee.

Temperatures during the last two weeks of August can hit 93 degrees and have reached 97 degrees in mid-afternoon, said Ryan Pedigo, the director for public health preparedness at the Hillsborough County Health Department.

"When you put a 92 percent humidity on top of that temperature, it can feel like you're up above 120" degrees, Pedigo said.

Of the 10 misting stations, two to four are expected to be available to protesters. Others will be used to help cool police and firefighters, as well as police dogs and horses. A few will be held in reserve. The misting stations will be under 10-by-10-foot tents set up side by side. They can run for about five hours without having to be refilled with water.

"We can actually cool quite a few people," Pedigo said. "We imagine that they would come in, cool off, and then they'd leave."

Health officials also plan to have a first-aid station set up near the protest area to provide quick aid to help people feeling the effects of the heat and to reduce the numbers who need more serious care. So, for example, medics at the station will not be putting in IVs to provide fluids to treat dehydration.

"If they're that serious, they obviously need to be transported," Pedigo said.

In Charlotte, N.C., the site of the Democratic National Convention, city officials plan to provide 25 portable toilets and unlimited amounts of water at refill stations, Carol Jennings, the city's liaison to the DNC, said in an email. Also, she said, "our major park where the parade route ends has beautiful shade trees."

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