By Audrey Fraizer
There was more to the 2012 Democratic National Convention (DNC) held at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C., during the first week of September than the politicians and delegates gathered to nominate their candidates.
Local, state, and federal agencies came together to make the convention a safe event for not only the DNC attendees but, also, the entire Charlotte community.
For their part, Mecklenburg EMS Agency (Medic), switched to “12 on, 12 off” shifts and suspended time-off and vacation requests; all hands needed to be on deck. Medic personnel were scheduled for 12-hour shifts inside the secured zones as well as throughout the entire county. Medic dispatchers worked 12-hour shifts either at Medic’s Central Medical Emergency Dispatch center (CMED) or at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Police and Fire Training Academy.
Although Medic has prepared for many mass gatherings like the DNC, the agency had never planned for anything with such a massive security component, which included both a sitting president and vice president.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, along with police from neighboring agencies, patrolled Charlotte’s Uptown area, referred to as the hard zone during the week. Medic Deputy Director Barry Bagwell described DNC security as multiple layers, each surrounded by a fence. The first layer—the tier with the largest circumference—involved the lowest level of security, with each succeeding smaller layer demanding even higher levels of security, identification, and government clearance.
“Preparations focused on both security and interagency coordination,” Bagwell said. “This was particularly outside the perimeter of the hard zone, where a large police presence was needed to help control the protest environment.”
Medic relied heavily on local and state partnerships built prior to the DNC. Preplanning for the DNC was imperative. Medic leadership met with Denver’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department (Denver was the 2008 DNC host city).
“We did the pre-work and we were ready,” said Bagwell, who is in his 27th year at Medic. “In fact, we were many steps ahead of the game before the DNC even started. The week of the event turned out to be relatively calm for us.”
As for Medic’s dispatch center, the information and call flow were adjusted to allow communication between radio dispatch at the EOC and the many dedicated units in and around the hard zone, such as the mobile hospital, police and bicycling patrols, SWAT teams, and EMS crews.
“It would have been an absolute nightmare if when people arrived, each used a different vocabulary for the same incident,” Bagwell said. “There has to be structure, a common language, just like there is with Medic’s Medical Priority Dispatch Protocol.”
Medic dispatched 161 resources for the 91 incidents requiring response, with the majority of EMS issues relating to the heat.
“The event was a snapshot of what we always handle, but we did have a full court press in case anything did happen,” said Operations Manager Todd Sims.
At the same time, business as usual meant keeping close tabs on morale during an intense operation. To keep all employees informed and gauge employee morale, leadership kept in constant contact with employees whether in person at Medic’s headquarters, in the hard zone, or at the EOC.
The “what could happen?” thought a week prior was the most trying part of the event for Sims.
“That’s what made me nervous,” he said. “But it turned out to be an excellent learning experience putting theory into action. The agency is better prepared in many ways because of our response to the DNC.”
Medic’s responsibilities span 544 square miles, including the city of Charlotte. The agency’s EMS 9-1-1 dispatch center received 110,180 calls in fiscal year 2012, and during any given 24-hour period, 150 to 300 calls are dispatched. Medic’s Central Medical Emergency Dispatch has been an Academy Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE) since 2002.