WTO and Y2K – The Story I Was Never Asked To Tell – Part 4: Havoc in the Streets

By Jim Mullen
Emergency Management, Once Removed

As WTO approached, The Mayor’s Office became concerned about the contrast between the cheery outlook presented by SPD and the Mayor’s own staff and the “negativity” some of us were projecting. The Mayor asked what everyone thought were the chances of riots occurring. I said 80%: my senior planner chastised me afterward, saying there was a 100% chance. I said no one would have believed 100% – he replied, “They didn’t believe 80% either!

With that, (without detailing several sidebar blowups with several police and fire department officials over my “attitude” which admittedly included by this time my belief that they were behaving less than honorably) we awaited WTO.

The City EOC activated at 6AM Friday, November 26, the day after Thanksgiving, to “monitor and support” as requested.

Protester disruptions, which we viewed as tests of the City’s will but were tolerated as providing “room” for the protesters to vent, occurred Friday, increasing in intensity on Saturday and Sunday, with few arrests for unlawful conduct.. On Monday, November 29 the first working day for the WTO conference, protesters converged to prevent delegates from entering a conference venue, and the “Battle in Seattle” was engaged. Throughout Monday and Tuesday, November 30, rioters were attacking businesses in the downtown area, breaking windows, looting and resisting police. Demonstrators, having compromised law enforcement tactical channels, deployed several places at once, complicating the police response. The “special” Multi Agency Coordinating Center’s (MACC) reaction time was, to be kind, sluggish. Downtown, commerce was at a virtual standstill. Broadcast media, at first radiating exhilaration at the outpouring of democratic dissent, began to decry the violence that was taking place and criticize law enforcement’s reaction.

That Monday, SPD began “exploring” availability of mutual aid from neighboring jurisdictions. Weeks earlier, Emergency Management had provided SPD Operations with a comprehensive list of available units from neighboring jurisdictions (and the recommendation that joint training be conducted with those outside units); that information was cast aside, consequently, as the riots raged SPD was frantically trying to reacquire information they already should have acted upon.

Tuesday morning, November 30, the level of street violence escalated, and I recommended the Mayor be informed that the “situation” was out of control. Officers were exhausted, while the protesters were brimming with justified confidence that they were “outgeneraling” the authorities. However, “intelligence” concluded the protest “soon” would wind down. Not surprisingly, things got progressively worse within a few hours.

That afternoon, November 30, I more forcefully (and successfully) recommended that the EOC Commander, assume command, with the Mayor issuing the appropriate executive proclamation. The EOC began to manage the WTO response, at mid-afternoon Tuesday, November 30.

Washington National Guard crowd control units were nearby under a closely held agreement we (Seattle Emergency Management) had made with the State. Once formally requested they deployed rapidly. In addition to requesting National Guard troops, we finally had acquired mutual aid from neighboring jurisdictions, as well as Washington State Patrol officers. We needed all of them.

SPD was unprepared logistically to accommodate mutual aid forces. On Wednesday afternoon (Dec 1), a Seattle Assistant Police Chief in the MACC, intending to obscure this inadequacy, ordered the “release” of mutual aid forces back to their respective jurisdictions. The EOC Commander was in a Do Not Disturb meeting with senior officials. I rescinded the order under the signature of “EOC Command”, (I “assumed” command since the EOC Commander was unavailable). The retraction of an operational order by a sworn senor officer was well beyond my legal authority, but it stood up until the EOC Commander returned, supported (and took responsibility for) the “reversal” of the order. He knew that once released, neighboring forces likely would not have returned.

Suggestions OEM staff offered aimed at countering negative press accounts about police conduct on the street were dismissed. It seemed the intent, by then, was to make SPD’s line officers the scapegoats for the poor planning, and misguided assumptions of their elected and senior leaders.

Demonstrations continued through Friday (Dec.3) when the EOC thwarted a scheme to occupy downtown buildings, even locking down City Hall while an apoplectic Deputy Mayor was meeting with protest leaders. We were not going to allow them to take possession of City Hall, which was more than likely the game plan of the protestors.

Over my objections, on Friday Dec 3 the Mayor countermanded my direction that the City’s public information officers staff the EOC (with OEM support) through that second weekend, leaving the Saturday and Sunday news cycles to the protestors. The only “news” came from the spokespersons for the protestors, who in telling their story “won” the public relations battle. If you do not tell your story, someone else will tell your story his or her way.

Next Installment: September 26
WTO and Y2K: The Story I Was Never Asked to Tell – Part 5: A Look Back

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.