A large portion of the work required for an NSSE consists of the pre-event planning and coordination. Some of the activities required include the need to:
Careful and detailed planning in the pre-event stages will help to ensure a safe and successful NSSE.
The NSSE nomination/designation process consists of the following five steps:
Initiation of this process occurs when the governor of the host state submits a written request to the DHS Secretary. The DHS Secretary forwards this letter for review and consideration to the NSSE Working Group, which is composed of senior officials of the USSS, FBI, FEMA, and other federal agencies. Factors for consideration during the designation process include:
For the 2008 DNC and RNC in Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul respectively, the NSSE Working Group reviewed both requests and the overall security environment, and recommended that the conventions receive NSSE designation. Upon designation of an event as an NSSE by the Secretary of the DHS, the USSS becomes the lead federal agency for operational security design, planning, and implementation. The FBI becomes the federal lead for intelligence and counter-terrorism, while FEMA is the federal lead for providing planning support and operational readiness for possible emergencies. The NSSE designation provides local jurisdictions and the event planners with the expertise and resources of the USSS and other federal agencies, as well as the experience and knowledge gained from lessons learned during prior NSSEs.
An NSSE designation does not mean that the USSS, or any other federal government agency, will usurp the local jurisdiction’s day-to-day responsibilities. The scope of the NSSE is limited to the event and the security perimeters in and around the sites and to protectees, delegates, and other attendees.
The planning process begins with the establishment of an executive steering committee, typically comprised of command-level representatives from the USSS, FBI, FEMA, local law enforcement, and public safety agencies within a local jurisdiction. The executive steering committee establishes a subcommittee structure that distributes assignments in connection with the development of various elements of the operational plan among a variety of subject matter experts from within the greater law enforcement and public safety community, to include transportation professionals.
The 2005 Presidential Inauguration Steering Committee included the following members:
The subcommittees met routinely during the weeks and months leading up to the event and reported regularly to the executive steering committee to discuss and share their progress in developing their part of the overall operational security plan. The executive steering committee also served as the mediator and final arbiter of disputes that could not be resolved within subcommittees. In this way, the executive steering committee and the operational subcommittees were the framework for the development and implementation of the security plan, and served as the conduit for information sharing among the various agencies involved in this process.
Subcommittees for the 2005 Presidential Inauguration consisted of the following:
Similarly, for the 2008 DNC, Denver had 18 planning subcommittees, one of which was transportation. Each had a federal and local co-chair and, in some cases, a state co-chair depending on the state’s level of involvement in that area. The subcommittees met bi-weekly for a year.
Notice of an upcoming NSSE can come to a local DOT/DPW under two circumstances—short notice such as presidential funerals and advance note such as a party nominating convention. In the case of an annual or projected event, such as the State of the Union Address, Super Bowl, or a national party nominating convention, locations and timelines are known and have an element of predictability. With these events, the venue is set and the purpose of the event has already been determined. Planning for such events can begin up to a year or more in advance of the NSSE. The expected number and level of dignitaries in attendance will contribute to the time required to prepare for an event. World events and politically sensitive issues of the day will affect and drive the level of security and resources required to protect the venue and its participants adequately.
Unplanned or short-notice NSSEs have much shorter timetables. Advance notice might not be possible for these events (e.g., a state funeral), or they may result from a last-minute change of plans (e.g., G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh). The short-notice events require increased flexibility as the USSS works to expedite the planning process. These events still require an acceptable level of public safety and protection for VIPs. However, presidential funerals do have some elements of predictability, which this section will discuss in more detail later. Other unplanned NSSEs, such as public gathering events, may have other predictable elements, including likely timeframe, length, number of attendees, and location, based on the type of event.
Pre-event planning focuses on coordination and negotiations. Getting buy-in from the leadership within the DOT/DPW as well as the local government is essential according to many jurisdictions who have hosted an NSSE. The appropriate channels, EMA, law enforcement, or Fire/EMS (depending on the jurisdiction), notify the DOT/DPW of the NSSE designation and the DOT/DPW begins initial meetings to obtain the facts about the event. This will include the size, scope, invitees, and requirements of the event.
The lead local agency, the member assigned to the executive steering committee, whether law enforcement, Fire/EMS, or the EMA, will then organize an internal kick-off meeting with members of the local government to share information and begin to establish their internal committees and to solicit representatives for subcommittees. It is the responsibility of the DOT/DPW staff assigned to committees and subcommittees, both internal and external, to identify and resolve all issues related to their specialty area. If the DOT/DPW is a chair/co-chair, they are empowered to make decisions and resolve issues important to their jurisdiction. Typically, the types of internal committees follow those established by the executive steering committee. Next to security, transportation is one of the larger and more significant committees during many NSSEs. Because a local jurisdiction’s concerns extend well beyond the protection the USSS is trying to provide, an NSSE will require more resources and therefore more internal committees for the local government. In the case of the 55th Presidential Inauguration, DDOT determined that it needed separate committees within transportation and established them accordingly. While federal partners established an overall transportation committee, DDOT established a committee for DOT, DPW, and parking. However, this structure is not always necessary for all NSSEs.
Once there is agreement on the internal committees, assign representatives to participate on those committees. For example, the DOT/DPW may need to have a representative on the Public Space Committee but not the Parks Committee. If there is a DOT Committee, the DPW may need to co-chair or just have a representative. In some cases, the chair will request representatives to participate on a committee either for a specific meeting or for the long term. Usually, the chair’s perception of the need for coordination with a certain department or agency drives these requests.
The number and type of committees are unique to the type of NSSE. Initially, one central point of coordination, which will be the EMA in some jurisdictions, will receive contact information for the representatives selected to participate on and lead committees, and then will disseminate this information to the USSS, other federal agencies, and internal partners. Typically, the USSS will either contact the committee representative or will announce to the coordinating body for the local jurisdiction when they will be convening the transportation committee for a meeting. If the latter occurs, the USSS will make contact at the meeting, and the representative will receive invitations directly for all subsequent meetings.
A planning subcommittee will meet and develop task statements and meeting schedules. If they will miss meetings, members should assign alternative representatives. Each subcommittee will take minutes of the meetings—attendees, discussions, and decisions. The purpose is to provide a record of plans and agreements. Subcommittees can share minutes as long as they follow agreed-upon handling instructions and designations (e.g., for official use only, law enforcement sensitive). Each planning subcommittee, which involves personnel from different agencies, will meet as needed to develop the functional area plans. These team meetings build support for the plans, identify areas of need, and build relationships and trust. Plans should be consistent, comprehensive, and realistic. Planning should consider jurisdictional policies, such as the need for 12-hour work days. Forward any questions regarding procedure, policy, and law to the appropriate parties such as legal and finance.
Superintendent Robert Dunford, Boston Police Department, in charge of the agency’s security for the 2004 DNC, asked each of his planning subcommittees to answer the following questions:
Upon completion of the subcommittee plans that outline each subcommittee’s goals, available resources, and additional needs, the event security director and steering committee can review and determine whether the subcommittee plans are comprehensive, consistent, and realistic.
For an unplanned or short-notice NSSE, such as a funeral, the USSS may opt to work through a central POC and identify specific department or agency POCs to work with to complete the planning quickly. For the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, the City of Pittsburgh Emergency Management/Homeland Security Agency and department heads selected POCs for the various committees from those individuals who worked on special events planning with the Pittsburgh Emergency Management/Homeland Security Agency and were familiar with the planning and coordination of major events. The USSS received the names of these POCs early in the planning process, and these individuals either co-led or participated on the various committees.
For short-notice events, there may not be enough time to form committees to discuss planning strategies. Instead of committee action, the USSS may take a more rigid approach, issuing orders for protocols instead of negotiating a consensus. NSSEs such as Presidential funerals or events of national significance can come with little or no warning and may not allow as much lead time for pre-event planning. Flexibility is essential when working with federal partners such as the USSS and the White House, who are also under a great deal of pressure to provide the appropriate level of protection with less time to plan. In these instances, the federal partners may be less likely to negotiate on certain aspects of a plan.
Presidential funerals, while unpredictable, do have an element of predictability. While the First Family is in office, plans are being made for the President’s eventual funeral. Jurisdictions that the funeral will affect learn of the wishes of the family normally only after the President has died. The details of the plan are secure to avoid media leaks and potential security breaches. However, upon the death of a former President, the wishes can change at a moment’s notice and accommodation will be necessary.
Thirty-two Heads of State attended the State Funeral for former President Ronald Reagan, referred to by the USSS as Operation Serenade, at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. While some considered the announcement of the death of former President Reagan to be rather sudden, those close to the former President were aware of his condition and were preparing for his eventual death. Through relationships it had established with members of the law enforcement community, DDOT had 24 hours of advance notice to be ready. As former President Reagan lay in State at the US Capitol, former First Lady Nancy Reagan decided that the processional to take her husband to his funeral service at the National Cathedral needed to take another, more scenic route through Rock Creek Park. For some time, DDOT and the US Park Service had tried to resolve the issue of who was responsible for maintaining a roadway connecting a specific park road to city streets. As a result, they had not maintained this section of road. In an effort to support the wishes of the former First Lady and to eliminate any disruptions to this solemn day, DDOT worked throughout the night to resurface the road, setting aside the jurisdictional issue. This is one example of the importance of being prepared for the unexpected and having the ability to adjust quickly to changing conditions.
The executive steering committee will update and modify planning needs as required throughout the planning process, including changes that can be made up to and even on the day of the NSSE as necessary. Federal working groups can consist of one federal agency and local jurisdictions or multiple agencies. Participation will depend on the NSSE. Coordination may not involve every agency. The FBI may be a part of the transportation committee, but may have little to no input unless an aspect of its mission becomes involved. During the NSSE’s planning phase, each participating agency will be responsible for tasks according to their expertise or jurisdictional responsibility.
External coordination can also extend to state and local entities outside the local jurisdiction. Outreach to external partners at the state and local level for assistance can greatly help a local DOT/DPW support its objectives. Support can range from physical resources to messaging to the public on major arterials leading into the jurisdiction hosting the NSSE.
The creation of the NSSE transportation plan is not that much different from that of a transportation plan for a planned special event. The primary difference is the NSSE requires a higher level of security and so may require more road closures, transportation work zone closures, and limited access to parking than would be required for a non-NSSE special event. With an NSSE, the outside entity comes to the local jurisdiction with a request to hold a special event requiring transportation support and approval. The local jurisdiction reviews the request, negotiates terms of support and road closures, and approves transportation routes. For an NSSE, it is imperative to develop a unified transportation plan to address the security concerns to ensure the smooth flow of traffic, including transit vehicles, even under heightened security. It is also important that any security plan incorporate planned or temporary traffic and parking patterns. Lead agencies may also request the assistance of any number of other federal, state, or local agencies to provide multimodal transportation security. For example, in February 2005, Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Florida, required additional maritime support to provide security to cruise ships serving as supplemental hotels. With the influx of various state and local transportation and security agencies, event leadership must ensure clarification of assignments and resolution of instances of overlapping jurisdiction in advance of the event.
During planning for road closures, transit station closures, and sidewalk closures, planners must consider the proposed alternatives and how they serve people with access and functional needs, including what accommodations may need to be made for these segments of the population. One alternative may be shuttle bus services. Each NSSE will need guidance concerning such costs.
An NSSE will usually require a secure perimeter, or zones, that require road closures. In some cases, there may be several zones separated by security checkpoints creating rings radiating out from a central point. Again, several road closures will be required just to support these checkpoints. The USSS and law enforcement determine the need for such zones based on risk assessments, size of the event, attending dignitaries, etc. The zones that are set up around a venue are for protection purposes and are usually secured areas with specific access points. Zones also help to assign staff to specific areas, such as along a parade route or around a venue. In both cases, personnel working the event must have approvals granted on a case-by-case basis to move within the zone(s).
The USSS will sometimes assign a single special agent to cover several zones or assign a special agent per zone. The USSS determines these assignments, and those lead special agents are involved in any discussions concerning traffic detours and road closures so they are fully aware of the overall plan as it progresses. Another reason for this consultation is that a specific zone may be designated as an evacuation point for protectees. The USSS special agent assigned to that zone may have the added task of establishing an exit point that he/she will need to coordinate with the DOT/DPW. The appropriate staging of equipment/devices associated with surrounding road closures at the evacuation point will be important if their use is necessary.
The zone plan also allows law enforcement and the USSS to control access and easily identify persons who are not where they are supposed to be. In the case of a parade route, zones will also help to place public seating/viewing, protest locations, media, and exit routes. The security for an NSSE is extremely tight and, despite any established planning relationships, a local official that is not cleared to be in a specific zone will not gain access. Additionally, the sanitation of an area is the process of clearing all zones prior to the start of the NSSE. Law enforcement then uses methods, including bomb-sniffing dogs, to do a check of all zones to make sure they are secure. After sanitation of a zone, the USSS permits no further access into the zone until it has opened up the venue to access by officials. This period can be a day or more or just a few hours.
During the planning of former President Ronald Reagan’s funeral service at the National Cathedral, negotiations for road closures and alternate routes for local residents and other transportation users included the discussion of blast zones. For the USSS, this specific building presented challenges because it contains a lot of glass. While an initial and significant perimeter was required, the USSS needed to consider an additional layer based on the impact a blast would have on the building, even if the explosion did not occur next to the building.
The USSS and law enforcement will initiate discussions about their security needs. Transportation professionals are not required to factor these concerns into their planning on their own during the planning process. The main focus for transportation professionals will be to reroute the public around the NSSE venue(s) in the most efficient manner while supporting other requests for transportation support during the NSSE.
 Statement by Timothy J. Koerner, Assistant Director, Office of Protective Operations, USSS to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment. Colorado 2007.
 Conners, Edward. Planning and Managing Security for Major Special Event: Guidelines for Law Enforcement. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. March 2007.
United States Department of Transportation – Federal Highway Administration
Last Modified: September 21, 2020