WTO and Y2K: The Story I Was Never Asked To Tell – Part 3: WTO “Planning” vs “Seminars in Crisis and Consequence Management”

By Jim Mullen
Emergency Management, Once Removed

Whether in internal SPD meetings leading up to the WTO conference, or when the Mayor’s Office met with the SPD planning team, it was clearly SPD’s preference that OEM kept any concerns to itself. Instead, we did raise concerns, often at the behest of experienced line officers who had asked us to represent their belief that the demonstrations could take a more sinister direction. We argued that it was prudent to be prepared to deal with any possible problems. The Mayor’s staff, full of “can do” personalities, reinforced his view that Seattle would emerge from WTO as an “international city” that could seamlessly host and attract business opportunities while accommodating demonstrations. While they listened, courteously, most of the time, to our concerns, they chose to be satisfied with SPD’s assurances that everything would be “fine.”

SPD planners refused to comprehensively brief the City’s Disaster Management Committee (DMC), providing only evasive and guarded responses to operational questions from the DMC. The FBI /Secret Service advance teams had counseled SPD planners to hold plans “closely” within the sworn “public safety” team. Outside of this “close hold team” were OEM and other key city agencies.

With minimal research my staff uncovered demonstrators’ plans to “shut down” WTO, which raised concerns within SPD that our research might violate the City’s Intelligence Ordinance. (Seattle’s Intelligence Ordinance was intended to prevent SPD from repeating improper conduct that occurred in the wake of Vietnam War protests and other constitutionally protected dissident activities). SPD leadership seemingly preferred to remain ignorant of potential threats.

Our challenges to operational planning assumptions were met with extraordinary sensitivity. I decided to engage the DMC in a thinly veiled counter–planning effort characterized as orientation for any type of disaster response, any time, titled “Seminars on Crisis and Consequence Management.” The Washington Military Department’s Emergency Management Division representatives reviewed legal requirements for Washington National Guard mobilization and deployment. The City Attorney’s Office affirmed the legal process for authorizing the EOC Director to assume command in situations that spiraled out of control, the procedures for acquiring adjacent law enforcement and other resources as mutual aid, and under what conditions. The approaching Y2K fit nicely into the format of these seminars and had the added advantage of masking our primary purpose: laying the groundwork for intervention by the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) during WTO.

The FBI and Secret Service had persuaded SPD to establish a separate “multiagency coordination center” or MACC. To appease neighboring jurisdictions and city agencies that complained they were not “in the loop” the MACC team reluctantly hosted a “tabletop” exercise in early November inviting neighboring jurisdictions, city, state and federal personnel. The exercise scenario involved a ferry hijacking, and a hostage incident downtown, not far from the WTO meeting sites. During the exercise Q&A, I observed that they hadn’t mentioned messaging to the public in the hijacking scenario and asked if they had considered the hostage taking scenario might itself be a diversionary tactic. The Secret Service representative responded condescendingly that a diversionary tactic was unlikely, and “in our exercises, everything’s wrapped up before the news hour. We only do happy endings.”

Afterward, OEM staff met with SPD’s WTO Commander to press our concern that insufficient resources were being deployed and adjacent mutual aid providers needed to be training with SPD because we now viewed major disruptions as a virtual certainty. His response: WTO protests likely would be intense but of short duration, much like most Vietnam-era protests. I said we should be using the rolling riots of “Days of Rage” in Berkeley during that era as a likely comparison. The confidence of Mayoral and SPD leadership remained unshaken: our anxiety exponentially increased.

Next Installment: September 19
WTO and Y2K: The Story I Was Never Asked to Tell – Part 4: Havoc in the Streets

Now for Something Completely Different: The Story I was Never Asked to Tell
Blog Series

In 2015, The Center of Excellence – Homeland Security Emergency Management celebrated its ten-year anniversary with an Educators & Practitioners Summit at Pierce College Puyallup. One of our keynote speakers was former WA EMD Director Jim Mullen. Jim is a wonderful speaker who has the ability to connect with the audience through his storytelling. It was not long after the Summit where the Center’s Program Manager, Kellie Hale, asked Jim to provide his insights, knowledge, and experience into a monthly blog titled ‘Emergency Management Once Removed’. For the past four years, Jim has maintained a monthly blog for the Center from topics such as climate change, the aftermath of 9/11, the larger concept of emergency management and much more.

Jim has offered to do something a little different and tell about his experience when he was the Director for Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management during the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 1999 Ministerial Conference in Seattle and the frenetic preparations for the transition from 1999 to 2000 (aka Y2K). The new blog series is titled ‘Now for Something Completely Different: The Story I was Never Asked to Tell’ and will be a seven-part series. Each part will be posted every Thursday via the Center’s Constant Contact mailing list, its Website at www.coehsemcom, and other social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

As the anniversary of WTO and Y2K get closer, Jim’s blog series will be recorded for a podcast. The podcast will provide a little more detail on Jim’s firsthand knowledge as Director for Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management, best practices learned, and takeaways from the experiences. Recording of podcast will be available in November (date TBA). We will keep everyone posted of when Jim’s podcast will be available to access.

August 15: Now for Something Completely Different: The Story I Was Never Asked to Tell
August 22: Background Information on WTO and Y2K
August 29: Part 1: WTO Planning
September 5: Part 2: Pre WTO/Y2K Environment
September 12: Part 3: WTO “Planning” vs “Seminars in Crisis and Consequence Management”
September 19: Part 4: Havoc in the Streets
September 26: Part 5: A Look Back

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Information on this Blog is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not engaged in rendering professional advice or services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with an professional adviser. Opinions expressed here represent the viewpoints of individuals authoring the blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Center of Excellence.