Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

NSSE Description

The Democratic Party held the 2008 DNC to officially nominate its candidates for President and Vice President of the United States.  The majority of the convention took place in Denver, Colorado, from August 25 to 28, 2008, at the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver.  On the final day of the convention, the venue was moved to the much larger INVESCO Field for Barack Obama, the party’s presidential nominee, to give his acceptance speech before a crowd of approximately 84,000 people, including 15,000 members of the media. 

Due to the size and high-profile nature of the event, the DHS and the USSS classified the convention as an NSSE.  To ensure that the NSSE was carried out safely, securely, and efficiently for all parties involved, the City of Denver collaborated with numerous federal, state, and local agencies, each with a predetermined set of roles and responsibilities.

The entities involved in planning and administering the 2008 DNC included 18 City of Denver agencies, 57 other local agencies, 6 state agencies, 11 federal agencies, 5 non-government agencies, and 4 private sector agencies.  Some of the major players involved in the event included:

  • Executive Steering Committee – Established by USSS and the City and County of Denver to provide overall leadership for the planning and coordination of NSSE activities
  • The DNC Host Committee – Coordinated the actual event
  • USSS  – Served as the lead federal agency with primary responsibility for security of the event, (although they focused mainly on the protection of dignitaries and Very Important Persons (VIPs))
  • Denver Police Department – Served as the lead local agency
  • Various Federal, State, and local agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region VIII Office located in Denver, Colorado Department of Public Safety, and Denver Office of Emergency Management – Served as members of committees and subcommittees including transportation and security.

Despite the large number of partners and participants involved and the security concerns of the NSSE, the mayor was adamant that Denver should remain “open for business” and that disruptions be minimized.  This strategy was incorporated into the planning process.  City officials developed plans that provided the USSS with enough support to ensure the overall security of the NSSE and of those attending, but also provided enough flexibility to adjust operations quickly to ensure that most areas of the city were still accessible to the public.


The City of Denver is the capital of Colorado and the most populous city in the state.  Approximately 2.5 million people live in the Denver metropolitan area, making it the 21st most populous metropolitan statistical area in the United States and one of the largest metropolitan areas in the Rocky Mountain region.  The city’s downtown district is host to a number of large facilities.  This includes the venues that hosted the 2008 DNC—INVESCO Field and the Pepsi Center.  The two venues are less than a mile apart but are separated by the Cherry Creek, which runs the length of the city.  A number of highways and interstates provide connectivity to the downtown area, including Interstates 25, 225, 70, and 76 and US Routes 6 and 36.  The majority of the city itself is laid out on a grid pattern based on the four cardinal directions.  However, the downtown business district’s grid tilts 45 degrees as compared to the rest of the city.  Figure 4-1 shows the downtown location of the 2008 DNC.

Figure 4-1: 2008 DNC Site in Downtown Denver, Colorado

Satellite photo showing Pepsi Center and Invesco Field at Mile High

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) operates and maintains mass transit in the region, including more than 1,000 buses in the Denver and Boulder metropolitan areas and a light rail system.  Denver International Airport, located approximately 19 miles to the northeast of downtown, is also among the largest and busiest airports in the country.  Denver is a consolidated city-county.  The city elects a mayor to act as the city’s chief executive as well as a 13-member city council, with each official having a 4-year term.

The City of Denver was selected for the convention in part because it has hosted other large events that while not NSSEs, had unique security requirements, including the 1993 Papal visit, the Summit of the Eight in 1997, and the 2005 NBA All Star Game.  However, these other events were not close to the scale of the 2008 DNC and did not require the same security measures.

Advance Planning

The entire process of conducting the 2008 DNC took nearly 2 years, including 18 months of planning, the NSSE itself, and 6 months of after-action items following the NSSE.  Figure 4-2 presents the major events in the planning process.  The process required input from individuals in federal, state, and local agencies. 

Figure 4-2: 2008 DNC Timeline

Timeline graphic

Planning for the 2008 DNC began in January 2007.  By March of that year, committees and subcommittees, including the transportation and traffic subcommittee, were formed.  The transportation and traffic subcommittee included input from the Department of Public Works, the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, the Colorado Department of Transportation, and the Denver Regional Transportation District.  Due to other priorities, the USSS began its planning process in September 2007, filling in as an unofficial executive steering committee with other federal agencies represented as members.  The USSS worked with state and local agencies to form 17 planning subcommittees, all with representation from several levels of government and a variety of agencies.  In creating these subcommittees, the USSS sought to create a theme of shared responsibility, including having the USSS and Denver Police as co-leads.  For example, the USSS and Denver Police worked together to develop a joint crowd management plan.  Committees and subcommittees for the event met monthly or weekly for a year leading up to the event.  Table 4-1 lists the 17 planning subcommittees.

Table 4-1: List of Planning Subcommittees

Air Space Security Intel & Counter terrorism
Civil Disturbance Interagency Communication
Consequence Management Legal
Credentialing Public Affairs
Crisis Management Tactical & Counter Surveillance
Critical Infrastructure Protection Training
Dignitary / VIP Protection Transportation & Traffic
Explosive Devices & Mitigation Venue Security
Fire, Life Safety & Hazardous Materials  

The Executive Steering Committee determined which state and local agencies would participate well in advance of the NSSE and invited the relevant agencies to participate in the planning process.  A few peripheral federal agencies did not participate in the planning process but showed up to help at the last minute.  Planners still appreciated having the additional resources and worked to ensure that there was a job and location for each.  However, quickly assessing how to insert them into the overall organizational structure of the NSSE, including to whom they should report and their function was often challenging.

A Safety and Security Plan was developed in anticipation of the NSSE.  In order to form the overall plan, each subcommittee developed  strategic and tactical operation plans that provided for a comprehensive, multi-agency approach to providing consistent incident management and all-hazards response.  The transportation and traffic subcommittee plan included traffic management, parking management, contingencies for a loss of transportation routes, preliminary detours routes, pedestrian considerations, and an equipment and resource-sharing plan.  Upon completion of each subcommittee’s plan, the plans were compiled into a single, comprehensive DNC Safety and Security Plan.  The transportation plan included parking management for the NSSE.  Surveys suggested that the Pepsi Center and other venues holding events would have enough parking for those attending each of the events.  Some of the parking around the venues was reserved for VIPs.  When necessary, shuttle buses were set up to take the general public from parking lots to the venue.  Shuttle bus plans were published well in advance of the NSSE and made available to the public so that attendees knew where to park and how to get to the venue quickly.  Despite extensive planning, transportation issues during the event required real time response, including security detours and major and minor road closures.  Such adjustments were expected; however, it was a constant challenge to respond quickly and find the best possible routes for VIPs and general traffic.

The plan required early buy-in from senior leadership within the city.  For example, the mayor’s office was initially resistant to having a substantial number of riot police on the scene as a precautionary measure.  However, the office quickly realized the value in over-preparing to avoid having to overreact in the future.  The mayor’s office and other leadership were consistently open to new ideas upon receiving new information. 

NIMS is standard protocol for local enforcement and emergency management.  Although the USSS was not in the practice of using this protocol, the 18 months of planning allowed sufficient time to get the USSS up to speed and develop an emergency preparedness plan that outlined the expectations of each agency and was properly vetted and agreed upon. 

Part of the planning process included the development of the MACC, which was set up outside of the city.  Several agencies, including the USSS and many state and local agencies, participated in the development and staffing of the MACC.  The center linked with two of the region’s TMCs, the City of Denver’s TMC, and the Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT’s) TMC.  Although the majority of transportation staff involved in the event were located in the Denver TMC, CDOT provided additional support and fiber optic connectivity to the MACC.  The MACC also linked to 20 additional command centers located throughout the region, as listed in Table 4-2.  While the USSS helped develop the coordination center, no federal agents were stationed at the Denver TMC.  The TMC itself became a 24/7 operation with an increased staff throughout the NSSE.  While the TMC focused on transportation planning and operations, other operations centers, each with a specific focus, were set up as well.  For example, a specific hazardous materials coordination center was developed and hosted representatives from any agency with a primary role in protecting the NSSE from hazardous materials. 

Table 4-2: List of Operations Centers

Federal MACC Intelligence Coordination Center
State EOC Denver TMC (with CDOT TMC in supporting role)
Denver EOC Department Operations Centers
Venue Command Posts Joint Operations Center
Denver Police Headquarters Command Posts Bomb Management Center
Multi-Agency Dispatch Hazmat Coordination Center

Approximately a month before the event, the DNC host committee decided to move the final night of the convention to the much larger INVESCO Field, about a mile from the Pepsi Center.  This required a massive effort on the part of both transportation planners and emergency operations personnel to update transportation and security plans in just a few weeks. 

The planning process for the 2008 DNC was extensive.  Although some points seemed like overkill to the individuals involved at the time, when the NSSE began, managers and field staff realized the importance of each step in ensuring overall success.  The extensive planning allowed planners to meet the mayor’s requirement to have the city operating with business as usual, even with the closure of Interstate 25, the city’s only major highway running through downtown Denver.  This required coordination with a number of agencies including the Federal Highway Administration, CDOT, police, and the DPW to establish the parameters of the closure, develop detour routes, communicate information to the public, and enforce the closures.  The DPW served as the lead coordinating agency for transportation planning and execution.

May 2011
Publication #FHWA-HOP-11-012