On Patrol: Convention Security During Unconventional Times

With 2008 being a presidential election year, our nation’s main political parties will soon be hosting their conventions. What often goes unnoticed, however, is how these events can affect adjacent campuses. Here’s how Massachusetts General Hospital successfully planned for the 2004 Democratic National Convention and protected its patients, staff, visitors and premises.

Early in 2003, the attacks of 9-11 were still fresh on everyone’s minds and the country was gearing up to invade Iraq. At this moment of uncertainty and apprehension, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Director of Police, Security and Outside Services Bonnie Michelman and Assistant Director of Police and Security John Driscoll were tasked with preparing for the Democratic National Convention (DNC). This behemoth of an event would take place in the summer of 2004 at the Fleet Center in Boston — a short 5-minute walk from their campus.

Although with hindsight being 20/20, some may now be tempted to dismiss as unnecessary the anxiety MGH officials and the nation as a whole felt back then. After all, the event ended up being for the most part incident free. But during the planning phases leading up it, no one knew what Al Qaeda or some other terrorist organization would do next. This was the first national convention since 9-11, and Michelman and Driscoll were keenly aware that a lot of things could go wrong.

With this understanding, both earnestly got to work developing relationships with the multitude of agencies involved in the protection of the DNC. Risk assessments, training, staffing and drills were just some of the components that, when all was said and done, made this convention run smoothly.

Other campuses that may be affected by this year’s political conventions can apply these solutions as well.

What was your department’s role with the DNC?

Michelman: We were the coordinators for the hospital for the convention. We were the liaison between all of the law enforcement groups and city groups that were working to plan it, from the secret service to the FBI to Boston police to city planning to the Democratic National Committee. We worked with them for about 18 months to ensure that we had the best plan to:

    a) Be able to provide healthcare to anyone who needed it who was at the convention

    b) Ensure access to ambulances, patients, visitors and staff or convention dignitaries during the convention

    c) Ensure we had very good disaster and continuity plans should anything happen during the convention

How did you go about working with the Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies?

Michelman: We got ourselves infused into all of the committees and task forces that were being built up, showing them that we had a lot at stake here, and that they needed us and we needed them. We really worked hard not only on our own issues, but helping them with issues that were outside of our purview. They began seeing us as a partner and the importance of our role. We really tried to help with collaborative solutions. We also worked with them on some teams during the actual convention.

Driscoll: You need to remember a couple of things. That DNC was the first convention after 9-11, so we did not know at that time what was going to happen with Al Qaeda or from a terrorism perspective. It was uncharted territory. Also, geographically, our hospital is about 1/4 of a mile from the convention site. Part of what we had to plan for was if there were a Hazmat incident at the convention center and [in response to that incident] thousands of people [would come] running to our hospital [for help].

Michelman: They were setting up a multiagency command center (MACC), which was in place during the whole week, starting from a day or two before the convention. Immigration, customs to the Secret Service had a booth. Everyone was in a room 24 hours per day for 7 days, going through everything, getting information/intelligence together as early as possible. We were one of the few private agencies that had a place at the table there, which was very helpful for us. It enhanced relationships and trust for the future as well.

What was the next step?

Michelman: We had to work on things like designing the traffic routes that people could use during the convention to get in and out of the city. Trains had modified rates/times, and people wouldn’t be able to drive on certain roads at critical times. We had to get alternate routes and buses for our employees. We had to send things out to our patients so they knew if they didn’t have an emergency, not to come at certain times or how to get in at other times.

We had to create supply chains so we had adequate supplies should there be any type of catastrophe (i.e. biological or chemical event). There was a zone, for example, near the convention center where demonstrators were allowed. There were a couple thousand people who got licenses to demonstrate there. We had to make sure people stayed within that zone and they didn’t cross over to here. [We had to ensure that] if there were any kind of riot or activities where people got hurt that we would be able to care for them both onsite and here.

Did we have enough food for the week? Did we have enough blood? Did we have enough drugs for the week? How were we going to get extra doctors in here if there were problems? How would we get the VIPs and congressional people here? If there were problems at the hotels or parties, what would we do?

We worked with other hospitals in the region as well. We did extra risk assessments here. We did penetration audits to make sure our systems were in place, that our protocols were right; that we were hardening our targets, whether they be utilities, oxygen tanks or our research areas. We made sure we did educational sessions for all of our staff over many months so they knew what was going on.

We worked collaboratively with Boston police and the State police to make sure we had the right cadre of help and support from a law enforcement perspective, should we need it. We even had an outside person (a security director from another state) who was a colleague of ours work as a consultant for that week, looking at our operations from an outsider’s eyes to see if there was anything we were missing.

Driscoll: We were prepared because we knew that the target of the convention center was going to be very difficult for protestors and other groups to get at. We knew that we could be a soft target for people protesting animal rights and other issues. We were prepared if we became an area of protest.

What did you do one month before the convention?

Michelman: We were meeting with different groups in the hospital and doing an educational plan for leadership. We were training our own staff – I have 300 people and not all of them in security – we were putting them all on teams so they had roles and responsibilities – what they needed to be doing and what they needed to be aware of. We were doing some physical changes in terms of some places we needed to cordon off differently, have different signage or maybe have some different surveillance equipment – we were making some modifications.

Did you invest in extra access control, CCTV, radios, locks or other kinds of equipment?

Michelman: We didn’t do extra CCTV or access control. We did use extra equipment like bollards, extra flashlights, extra radios and yellow tape. We got extra two-way radios as well.

We definitely looked at scheduling and had people working 12 hour shifts during the convention. We also asked for volunteers from the rest of the hospital who we could kind of “deputize” as security people, if you will, to help us with various things, particularly if things escalated. We trained them. Not that they could be security professionals or officers, but just if we needed more people at perimeters or to do internal protection to sit at certain desks or lobbies.

We had a really wonderful group of people who volunteered – and they didn’t even think they were goin
g to get paid. We did wind up paying people for some things. It was great because it got more people involved in what we do. They took these jobs seriously and were an invaluable resource and supplement to us.

Did you hire any extra security contractors or guards?

Michelman: We did it all in-house. We had no vacations and no days off during that time. The supplement was the internal people I spoke of who were “deputized.”

We thought about hiring outside contract security people. The reason why we didn’t is we thought the most important thing were the people who knew this hospital and understood how it worked. It’s very large here, so to hire someone and expect them to know the place was difficult. The good thing was we wound up having fire department personnel onsite the whole week of the convention, and we had state police – at least two or three state troopers onsite with us the entire week.

When the actual event started, please describe a day in the life of your department.

Michelman: We basically just implemented our plan. We ensured we had augmented and more robust patrols and visibility in areas we don’t always have it – in public areas, in lobbies, more outside perimeter patrols, some areas of research and some areas with utilities.

We did penetration audits that week to make sure areas were locked down properly and that people were following protocols, allowing visitors in and checking to see if someone was in there who shouldn’t be. We did a lot of surveillance and checks of our equipment to make sure everything was in good order – our cameras, our access control. We did a lot of work with the Secret Service, FBI, and Boston and state police. We walked the floors and halls to basically help people understand what was going on, monitoring that our employees could get in during the week and they could get home.

Also, we had one of our managers at that MACC 24 hours a day. We were in constant touch with them during the day because they were the people who were getting firsthand information – if protestors were getting out of control; if someone was sick; if they were getting bomb threats; if they were getting any intelligence about a risk to the convention.

We also had people going to the convention. John and I actually attended one night, so we knew what was going on from that end. The convention was taking place at the Fleet center, which is walking distance from the hospital, a 5-minute walk. That was the good news and bad news for us.

How did you handle your normal patients and visitors? Did you handle them any differently?

Michelman: We encouraged people who needed elective types of procedures to wait and not do them during those days, particularly late in the day when the convention started. We didn’t say people couldn’t come. We didn’t close any practices, but the media was very clear with people what the traffic was going to be like. Actually, the traffic wound up being better than it ever was in our lives because so many people heeded the media’s advice and stayed home.

Otherwise, business went on as usual. We are an acute tertiary care hospital, so we have a lot of very sick people. People had to come different ways. During the evening shift, some of them couldn’t drive so they had to get bused in. But everything went remarkably smoothly. The fact that the convention was smooth itself helped a lot.

Driscoll: We found out about three or four days before the convention that the major highway that goes north to south into Boston was going to be closed several hours before the convention, while the convention was going on and for several hours afterwards. That’s the way people get to Mass General. For a couple of days before this, we were working with the state police and those other agencies to come up with ways so our employees could get there and home.

We have an investigative team, and they spent a lot of their time in plain clothes monitoring our perimeter, doing counter surveillance. At the time, we did not know what we were up against – whether it was going to be terrorism or a local group that would be targeting us.

Were there any incidents during the convention?

Michelman: No. The last day there were some demonstrators that got a little out of hand, but they didn’t come here. Some of our medical staff provided some critical care at the convention center.

Driscoll: We did find one person who was part of one of the anti-vivisection [animal activist] groups who was in our area. [We received that information] from some of the criminal intelligence we received from the FBI beforehand. We did find that person monitoring our buildings and research facilities.

Do you have any suggestions for other campuses, particularly those in Denver and Minneapolis, that may be dealing with similar types of events during the 2008 election year?


  • Plan early and have a really good plan that involves the whole organization
  • Get people to understand that it is important to harden the target and that it takes a lot of different components
  • Have outside people look at your plan and poke holes in it
  • Update your risk assessment as best you can
  • Get everyone in your team involved in a substantive way

One of the things that was wonderful was that in educating our staff and getting prepared, they got very excited about this. They felt very empowered and involved. It was an exciting time and they learned a lot. That was useful for us. They developed their career skills with this event and planning.

Driscoll: Also, because of the hospital-wide communication plan, I think the hospital public was happy at the very end even though it was an imposition for a lot of people. They were happy to perform and do the things they had to do. Right before the convention, we had the mayor of Boston come to the hospital and hear our plan. He actually asked Bonnie to join him at city hall for a press conference because he thought that the way we communicated our plan was probably the best he had seen at any private entity.

Michelman: We were trying not to complain that the convention was here but really celebrate it and just show we were going to make it work.

It was an enormous amount of work, and we took it very seriously. One great thing that came out of it is all the work we did for it (updating our risk assessments; cross training; training the hospital employees in different ways; getting people more immersed with us; looking at our vulnerabilities in different ways and updating our plans) was valuable work anyway. We have used pieces of that work since.

One thing that was fulfilling was that everyone talked to us. Any of us would walk down the hall, and people would stop and say ‘Hey, thanks for all that you are doing. How’s it going?’ People were very involved with us that week.

If you had to do it all again, is there anything you would do differently?

Michelman: We worked our way from the outside in. We worked with all of the community agencies. Then we did a lot of work with the hospital community. The last month we were really putting together and implementing our plan for our own department. I would have done that a little earlier.

Driscoll: I think it was a great experience. One of the things that was most telling for me happened about a month before the convention. After meeting with these outside groups for so long, we got a call from two lieutenants from the state police. Often times I find the state police to be involved in their own areas of expertise and focused on public concerns. We didn’t know what they wanted to meet
with us about.

When they came to us, one of them said, ‘I woke up at 2 a.m. and was thinking about your needs.’ He came to us to help us devise special traffic plans and processes for getting ambulances in and getting our employees in. To me that was just so telling that we got through to them, and they understood the gravity of the issues.

Michelman: We’ve now seen several years later with different events and initiatives we’ve had in our department that we’ve used a lot of the planning we did with the DNC. It has helped us in a lot of different ways: Our regulatory compliance; updating our plans; doing state-of-the-art systems design; getting budgetary dollars for things we identified as soft targets that we wanted to harden; improved relationships and thus getting on committees on a more permanent basis with some agencies we might not have before (for example, the anti-terrorism task force, mayor’s office, DHS, the Secret Service, FBI, Boston police, and state police). Our Rolodex and our relationships with those agencies and others have become much more fruitful, frequent and deep. That has been extraordinarily valuable.

I think what happens with an event like this is a lot of the factions and old stereotypes that exist between the private world and public world — where people were afraid to share information because there are fiefdoms and trust issues — those are broken down. With this event we had to work together for a long time, and we broke down a lot of those barriers that had existed.


The Michelman File

Name: Bonnie S. Michelman, CPP, CHPA

Title: Director of Police, Security and Outside Services

Campus: Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) is located in Boston, Mass., and is a 1,100-bed healthcare facility that has 5 million square feet of space, 30 buildings on campus and more than 200 offsite facilities. Approximately 60,000-70,000 patients, visitors and others pass through the campus each day. MGH also has a large research component and receives a significant amount of funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Department: 75 sworn officers, 75 nonsworn officers and 150 other staff

Experience: More than 25 years experience in private security management; past president of both ASIS-International and the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety; obtained her BA in government and sociology from Clark University, her MS in criminal justice from Northeastern University and her MBA from Bentley College.


The Driscoll File

Name: John Driscoll, CPP, CHPA

Title: Assistant Director of Police and Security

Experience: More than 25 years in the healthcare security field; currently the New England regional chairperson for the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety; sits on the International Healthcare Security and Safety Foundation Board; certified instructor in crime prevention and community policing.

The Event: The Democratic National Convention (DNC) was held at the Fleet Center on July 26-29, 2004, ¼ miles away from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Event organizers expected 35,000 delegates, 15,000 media personnel, 15,000-20,000 protestors, dignitaries, former presidents and an unspecified number of onlookers to be in or around the DNC. Other agencies involved in the planning of this event included the FBI, Secret Service, Federal Protective Service, U.S. Capital Police, U.S. Marshall Service, U.S. Coast Guard, and many more.

Robin Hattersley Gray is the executive editor of Campus Safety magazine. She can be reached at robin.gray@bobit.com.

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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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