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Monday, January 15, 2007
Is the Homeland Secure Enough for the 'Games'?

Below is the unedited version of an editorial I authored that was published by Crain's Chicago Business today. The edited version can be found here. The editorial came down in light of the USOC deciding that it would put forth a US bid (either LA or Chicago) to compete with Doha, Madrid, Istanbul, Rio, and Tokyo, on the international stage for the 2016 Games. The USOC's decision came just days after the Department of Homeland Security released its report of tactical interoperable communications ratings among and between American metropolitan areas. The report is interesting, both in terms of the ratings systems and the relative communications preparedness of different cities. A number of cities, including Chicago, have responded that Homeland Security gave no warning of what the findings would be and that encouragement of the efforts undertaken thus far by American cities is contrary to the written report.

Could Chicago’s Low Disaster Readiness Score Endanger the Chances for the 2016 Games?

Both the USOC and the IOC indicated that political stability to see the long preparation for an Olympic games through from bid acceptance to closing ceremony is an important criterion, and with Mayor Daley’s most serious challenger in Rep. Jackson dropping out of the next mayoral contest to enjoy the fruits of the new Democratic Congress, Chicago appears to be stronger on local government stability.

However, Homeland Security’s release of its “Tactical Interoperable Communications Scorecards Summary Report and Findings” on Wednesday may have added a new obstacle to Chicago’s bid as the USOC pits the Windy City’s bid against Los Angeles.

In light of the poor communication between first responders in the Twin Towers on 9/11 that may have led to the unnecessary death of many NYC firefighters unable to hear NYPD communications to evacuate, Homeland Security sought to assess the interoperable communications between various groups, namely police and fire. The aforementioned report grades urban/metropolitan areas on Governance, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and Usage.

As Olympic officials are very familiar with security issues, from Munich to Atlanta, tactical interoperable communications may be a factor in choosing a location. The scores in the three categories range from early to advanced implementation.

The current score for Chicago: Governance (early implementation), SOPs (intermediate implementation), and Usage (intermediate implementation).

The current score for Los Angeles: Governance (established implementation), SOPs (advanced implementation), and Usage (advanced implementation).

The USOC should keep in mind that the Chicago Urban Area includes the City, Cook County, and 128 municipalities, while the Los Angeles/Long Beach Urban Area includes only 26 municipalities and LA County. Such a disparity in the amount of independent departments that require cooperative communication between each other surely explains part of the disparity between the communications scorecards, but the message from Homeland Security is clear: do better.


Why are you being such an alarmist? We're talking about 2016--ten years from now. Don't you think the Dept. of Homeland Security will be working towards a solution to these deficiencies--regardless if Chicago hosts the Olympics or not--before then? Plus, by hosting the Olympics, Chicago will actually be "fast tracked" by all applicable entities to get "up to speed" even quicker. To play to the fears of the people of Chicago is irresponsible without mentioning these points.

Finally, in my opinion, your post also loses sight of a very important aspect--regardless of what U.S. city may host the Olympic Games--it is the Feds (not the locals as were the subject of the low scoring you referenced) that will oversee all security aspects. To act as though the City of Chicago would be anything less than safe (compared to any other U.S. host city) is really poor journalism in my opinion.

And, personally speaking, I find it ironic how many Americans cite security concerns as why they don't want their city to host the games. To me, and it's just my opinion, isn't that letting the "bad guys" win?

Bring the Olympics and World Cup back to American cities. We have the security detail to handle it. (Just as we do for the Super Bowl, Final Four, BCS Championship, etc.)

Anonymous NYC2012 Supporter -- 1/16/2007 9:28 PM  

NYC2012 Supporter,

Thank you for your comments. The reason that we are talking about 2016 is that the decision between LA and the Windy City takes place in less than three months, and the article directly addresses one of the issues along with financing, existing structures, political stability, and appeal to the international community (i.e. likelihood of bid success before the IOC) that the USOC will be evaluating: security.

The federal government is not involved in the USOC bid process. Each city forms a committee to make its bid as LA and Chicago have done.

The solution is put on Chicago, Cook County, and the various municipalities to remedy the communications issues. I have seen no evidence to presume that Chicago or LA would be "fast tracked".

Security for prior games, including LA, Atlanta, and Salt Lake had the majority of security work undertaken by state and local authorities, as is the case at other major events that you cite (bowl games, Superbowl, conventions), and not the "Feds". I am, however, welcome to see evidence to the contrary.

I consider myself, a Chicago resident, to be one of the most ardent supporters of the City of Big Shoulders getting the Games. Feel free to reference a past post in which I suggested an alternative funding solution to bring the Games to Chicago using a casino.

Coming from a family that counts Chicago police among its members, I don't doubt the City's ability to adequately secure the Games or improve on DHS's scorecard. We will.

Surely pointing out an area that could use improvement through constructive criticism so that my hometown can host the Olympics is not "irresponsible".

Blogger Tim Epstein -- 1/17/2007 10:53 PM  

Hi Tim,

First, to compare security structures for LA & ATL (pre-9/11) and Salt Lake (post-9/11) is a fallacy. One's an apple. The other's an orange.

A 2016 Olympics would no doubt be classified by the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) as a "National Special Security Event." (NSSE) ( This means that in fact the Feds would oversee all security aspects--not state & local agencies. This will occur regardless if L.A. or Chicago is chosen.

Further, common sense tells us that if DHS is going to have a NSSE in a U.S. city, it will no doubt "fast track" the implementation/upgrading of that city's security infrastructure. (I'd also argue that the USOC senior officials know full well that Chicago, the #3 largest metro area in the country, will be "up to speed" by 2016 regardless of this spring's vote.)

Again, in my opinion, your column was beyond "constructive criticism" and in fact took on an unnecessarily alarmist tone for the readers of Chicago. While I appreciate your support of your city's bid--I think the full facts should be reported. And that is the Feds will oversee the security of a U.S. based Olympic games regardless if the games are in Chicago or L.A., so to bring it up as a "concern" to Chicago's bid is misleading without explaining more fully the federal government's involvement with the security structure of any U.S. based Olympic games.

Anonymous NYC2012 Supporter -- 1/18/2007 12:55 AM  

Again, I appreciate your comments, but the thrust of my article was based on the competition for the US bid between LA and Chicago. My sense is that things are pretty even with LA being ahead on existing structures and people (almost the entire 1984 committee is still intact!), with Chicago having more appeal with the IOC (first time, centrally located in the US, O'Hare, away from Hollywood's influence...the IOC still has a bad taste in its mouth from the overly commercial Atlanta games).

The point of the article was that LA has much higher scores on security communications between different first responder units.

Your comments are directed at what DHS will do if Chicago or LA gets the games. When we get to that point, I will be happy to comment. My concern is that the DHS report was released as the USOC is choosing between LA or Chicago.

Once a city is chosen, I am sure that LA or Chicago metro officials will continue to work with DHS to get communications down.

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