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How to Maintain Security at High-Profile Events

By Beth Kormanik February 28, 2013, 7:30 AM EST

President Obama addressed AIPAC members in 2012.

Photo: Courtesy of AIPAC Policy Conference.

With heads of state, as many as 350 members of Congress, and more than 12,000 attendees expected, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference next week requires a heightened level of security. Organizers work with federal and local law enforcement agencies, the secret service, as well as foreign dignitaries’ security details to secure the Walter E. Washington Convention Center every year.

“We're clearly working on a volatile issue, an issue that has both supporters and detractors,” said Jeff Shulman, AIPAC director of national events. “We've got to provide a secure environment where people feel comfortable expressing views on this issue.”

Among the speakers for this year’s event, which runs Sunday to Tuesday, are Vice President Joe Biden, who will address delegates on Monday morning, and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. President Obama, who has attended four of the last six AIPAC conferences, is not expected to attend.

Shulman shared the ways the event maintains a safe environment year after year.

Vet your attendees
Even with more than 12,000 attendees coming, the attendee list is still closely vetted. “We welcome members of the public to come, but nearly everybody at the conference has been invited in one way or another,” Shulman said. “Members of our staff collectively know 95 to 98 percent of the delegates.”

Plan for protesters
Planning includes figuring out how to incorporate the protesters who gather at the convention center each year. “We watch these organizations throughout the year,” Shulman said. “Our concern outside is to make sure our delegates have clean access to the convention center, and we keep the parties separate from each other. They have a right to do what they do, but there's a physical separation. We want traffic to flow outside the convention center as well.”

Keep lines moving
“Our goal is to get people in the door quickly,” Shulman said. “Our goal is for people not to wait in line.” Planners achieve that by making sure they have enough security equipment to process attendees and working with general contractor Hargrove on a smooth floor layout.

Stay flexible
“When you're dealing with the White House, Congress, and foreign heads of state, they don't confirm until late in the game,” Shulman said. “We would love to market headliners in advance, but many years it doesn't work out that way. [The security] all depends on whether there is a secret service component. In some ways, that's out of our hands.”

Shulman and his team immediately know when the process goes well: Before they leave, more than 1,000 people submit paid registration for next year’s conference.

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