During the summer of 2004, the First Coast Guard District in Boston, Massachusetts supported both Presidential political nominating conventions for the 2004 election. The Democratic National Convention was held in Boston, Massachusetts on July 26–29, 2004, and the Republican National Convention was held in New York City from August 30th to September 2, 2004. This was the first time both conventions have taken place within the geographic area of responsibility of a single Coast Guard District. The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security declared both of these events as National Special Security Events under Presidential Decision Directive 62 (PDD-62). PDD-62 formalized and delineated the roles and responsibilities of federal agencies in the development of security plans for major events.

The 2004 Democratic and Republican Conventions were the first political conventions held in the United States since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In the months before the Democratic National Convention, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice stated that there was credible intelligence from multiple sources indicating that al-Qaeda planned to attempt an attack on the United States during the period leading up to the election. (Joint Statement of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Attorney General John Ashcroft on May 28, 2004) The terrorist attacks on the Madrid rail system were a direct attempt by AI Qaeda to influence the elections in Spain, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was going to take all appropriate steps to prevent a similar attack in the United States. (Schmidt and Priest, Washington Post May 26, 2004; Page A02)

The 2004 Conventions offered a significant challenge for the Coast Guard and other federal, state, and local agencies that had dual responsibility for coordinating security operations while being prepared to respond to a disaster including oil spills and hazardous substance releases—the combination of what was previously designated as crisis and consequence management under PDD-39. This paper will examine lessons learned from planning and operations in support of the conventions. Having served as the First District Project Officer for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, this paper is written as my observations of the lessons learned and offers some insight into what went well and possible areas for improvement as I observed throughout the more than 18 months of planning for these events of national significance.

The Coast Guard planning and operational support for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions demonstrated the importance of a team approach to planning, interagency coordination and partnerships, pre-event preparedness activities, and pre-deploying personnel and resources for response. It is my hope that the observations contained in this paper can benefit federal, state, and local agencies as they prepare for large significant events in the future including National Special Security Events.

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