Diego Union Tribune
July 26, 2004
Boston is security 'case study' for post 9-11 events
Dana Wilkie Michael Gardner and Paul Krawzak
Copley News Service
BOSTON Empty highways. Armed police on subways. Fighter planes in the
skies. Night-vision cameras on the harbor. Antidotes for chemical
attacks on hand.
In some respects, Boston this week resembles one of those
made-for-Hollywood towns that gets sealed off, battened down and heavily
patrolled after some event of catastrophic proportions.
And in some respects, that's exactly what it is.
Boston is hosting the first national political convention since
terrorists attacked the country in 2001, and it will serve as something
of a case study on holding large national and international events
post-Sept.11. What is learned here this week at the Democratic National
Convention may be instructive when it comes to securing next month's GOP
national convention in New York and the summer Olympics in Athens.
"The amount of work going into security here is the result of the
way our reality changed on Sept. 11," said Katie Ford, spokeswoman
for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety. "These
conventions are a core part of our democratic process, and not something
we want to forego because of security worries."
The four-day convention, where Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry will accept
the party's presidential nomination, comes just months after terrorists
disrupted Spain's elections by bombing a Madrid train and just weeks
after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warned that terrorists were
scheming to "disrupt our democratic process."
Some $50 million - more than half the convention's entire $95 million
budget - is being spent to ensure the safety of some 35,000 delegates,
journalists and visitors attending the event, which starts Monday and
In security parlance, the convention's "ground zero" is the
city's FleetCenter, home to Boston's professional hockey and basketball
teams and site of each night's official convention activities.
Theoretically, the FleetCenter is a terrorist's dream. It sits in the
heart of the city, a few steps from Boston Harbor, and just 40 feet from
a major highway, Interstate 93. Underneath lies a principal subway and
rail station. That means just about any vehicle - a car, bus, boat,
train or subway - could serve as a terrorist tool.
Around rush hour each convention day, federal officials will close six
miles of Interstate 93 as it runs through downtown Boston. Even when the
highway is open, two of its six lanes will be closed. Not welcome news
in a city known for tear-out-your-hair traffic jams.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has suggested workers take vacation during
the convention, or to telecommute from home. Some found the suggestion
simplistic and insulting. One labor union official, who asked he not be
named, called the impact of the security measures "awful" for
Also closed will be the FleetCenter subway and rail stops. Bostonians
whose commute takes them through this station must disembark at the
station before and ride a free shuttle to the station beyond.
The road and subway closures will affect 287,000 commuters each
convention day, said Paul Bachman, an economist at the Beacon Hill
Institute of Suffolk University, which studied the convention's economic
impacts. The institute expects convention security measures will result
in $33.8 million in lost worker productivity. When all costs and
benefits are tallied, the entire Boston region will suffer an $8.2
million loss, the institute says.
"Most conventions say they make money, but these are the first
conventions being held post-Sept. 11," Bachman said. "When the
bills actually come in... the (convention) benefits may be harder to
Menino disputes this prediction.
"The Secret Service has made extraordinary security demands on the
entire area, and the mayor acknowledges there will be some
disruptions," said Seth Gitell, a Menino spokesman. "But...
the convention will be an economic plus for our city."
Some businesses say the strict security has cost them money. Susan
Babine, director of sales and marketing for the Hawthorne Hotel in
Salem, 20 miles from Boston, has lost $17,000 in bookings she expected
convention week. The security measures, she said, "sent a message
that being in the Boston area during the convention, unless you were
associated with it, was not the place to be."
Some 3,000 city police, state troopers, prison guards, mass transit
officers and National Guardsmen will police convention events. Sunday,
they patrolled the streets, buses and subways, even stopping passengers
to search bags. They traveled on foot, on bikes, in cars, on horseback
and on motorcycles, sometimes traveling in packs of 20 or more. Some
wore bulletproof vests, helmets and tear-gas masks. Others had
bomb-sniffing dogs. They will keep watch over at least 70 sets of
demonstrators protesting everything from the war in Iraq to legalized
Antidotes for chemical attacks have been rushed to the city. The FAA has
closed the airspace over the city - even to traffic helicopters - while
F-16 fighter jets patrolled the skies. The Coast Guard grounded all
commercial and pleasure craft on the harbor, then patrolled the waters
in boats sometimes armed with machine guns front and back.
Demonstrators who want to be near the FleetCenter must protest in an
area that holds only 1,000 people and is surrounded by chain link
fences, concrete barriers, razor wire and black mesh designed to repel
liquids. Steve Kirschenbaum, a union leader and protest organizer,
called the area "an internment camp."
Civil libertarians are concerned that police, the Coast Guard and
federal authorities have installed video cameras in and around the
FleetCenter, at points along the harbor, at bus and subway stops and on
"These can be used to monitor people for political reasons,"
complained Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.
Others tolerated the inconveniences well. Though road closings will
prevent 34-year-old Andrew Walsh, a suburbanite, from driving into
Boston to visit his girlfriend this week, he chalked up their forced
separation to the realities of a post-9-11 world.
"You can't be too careful these days," he said.