In July 2016, just days before a federally designated national special security event in Cleveland, Ohio, the predictions of likely violence had reached a crescendo. Civil unrest and chaos was widely reported as an inevitability.
The event was the Republican National Convention; the Democratic National Convention was scheduled for two weeks later in Philadelphia. Both events had been given a “national special security event” designation, just as all national political conventions had since the designation was developed over a decade earlier.
But 2016 was much different. Community-police relations were significantly strained following tragic events in the United States, and in Cleveland. The host police department in Cleveland was under a federal consent decree and the political climate was polarized. There were planned protests and counter-protests by groups carrying firearms; anarchists flocked to the region. Congress provided 50 million dollars in security appropriations.
Yet the event, a crisis by definition, turned out to be one of the safest, lowest arrest national conventions in recent U.S. history. The businesses and community in Cleveland thrived after the visitors left and national news stories focused on the cool, hip, start-up friendly hotbed of Cleveland, Ohio.
To those not involved in the daily meetings, plans, and collaborative efforts for nearly two years prior to the event, the result was a surprise. To those in the crisis planning process, the crisis management plan was executed as planned and the risk became the opportunity. That is what a crisis is at its core; a risk and opportunity. That is what distinguishes the bigger, broader, more encompassing defining differences between a crisis and an emergency or disaster.
The United States Secret Service was the federally designated planning lead and the Cleveland Police Department was the host law enforcement agency. My role, as Director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, was to lead and coordinate all state assets, resources, personnel and plans. Security operations outside the convention facility fell to the thousands of troopers and police officers from Ohio and around the United States. The collective work of those women and men was inspirational and, for those who were a part of it, a highlight of their career.
A key ingredient to success in this planned crisis was the resulting trust that was built by collaboration and investment by the community, businesses, and stakeholders in Cleveland. Just a few days prior to the event, the Governor of Ohio and I and a small group met one final time with clergy, community leaders and business leaders to discuss the event’s preparations. After I left that gathering, I had a good feeling as a result of the commitment of the leaders in the room to continued collaboration throughout the event.
That is crisis planning- recognizing the risk, preparing, practicing and, most importantly, communicating and collaborating with those who have a stake in it. Crisis planning is a science. Executing the plan is an art. Collaboration is the artist’s best tool.