Establish a clear leader and command structure when working on a major, interagency project.
Boston, Massachusetts’s experience with transportation planning for special events.
Made Public Date


United States

Transportation Management and Security During the 2004 Democratic National Convention


The purpose of this study was to determine how transportation planning for special events is best conducted when mobility considerations are subordinated to security priorities. The subject of this study was the 2004 Democratic National Convention (DNC), held at the FleetCenter, a multipurpose sports facility located in downtown Boston, Massachusetts, from July 26 through July 29, 2004. This event was designated a National Special Security Event by the U. S. Department of Homeland Security. This designation established the U.S. Secret Service as the lead agency because security measures would take precedence over other actions, such as providing mobility to delegates and residents. The role of transportation agencies was to implement procedures that would accommodate the security measures developed for the convention. Lessons learned from this experience include: selecting major event sites with security as the primary consideration; planning sufficient time for facilitating and accommodating interagency relationship-building; keeping the public informed with current accurate information so they are able to make knowledgeable travel decisions; taking advantage of special events opportunities, which inspire the improvement of existing and new technologies; and establishing a clear leader and command structure when working on a major, interagency project.

Lessons Learned

The 2004 Democratic National Convention (DNC) was complex, in part, because the organization and operation of the transportation system involved input from multiple agencies, often with overlapping jurisdictions and priorities. Individuals and agencies involved in the organization and operation of the transportation system included the Mayor of Boston, the Governor of the Commonwealth, the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI, the U.S. Coast Guard, Massachusetts State Police, MassHighway, MBTA, DCR, MEMA, MassPike, and Massport. The following lessons were learned with regard to establishing a clear leader and command structure when working on a large, interagency project such as the 2004 DNC:

  • Establish a clear regional leader. For the Democratic National Convention (DNC), there was no clear regional leader in charge of all components to ensure the smooth operation of the transportation system. The Mayor of Boston was clearly the leader for the city. But most of the duties required to ensure the secure management and operation of the transportation system during the DNC fell to agencies outside of the city’s domain. These included: federal security agencies, numerous state agencies, and public authorities. There were also are more than 100 other municipalities within the boundaries of the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization that were affected. On the political level, historically a delicate dynamic exists between the Mayor of Boston and the Governor of the Commonwealth. Therefore, the need to find a common ground to ensure the successful planning and operation of the DNC was imperative. To help fill this vacuum of leadership, the Mayor turned to a former state and federal transportation official who had a wide range of contacts and the respect of all of the parties, former Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey.
  • Hold regular meetings to provide a forum for all agencies. In order to ensure cooperation and understanding among the agencies, an informal working group composed of representatives of all transportation and safety and security agencies met every week for over a year. This group enabled the agencies to quickly respond to any outstanding issues.
  • Create a unified command structure. Apart from having a designated leader, it is crucial for a region to have a unified command structure in place to respond to unexpected events. In March 2004, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued the National Incident Management System (NIMS). It is a standardized management approach that federal, state, and local governments use to prepare for and respond to a major incident. The Incident Command System (ICS), part of the NIMS, is a structure by which multiple jurisdictions coordinate their response to a major event. It specifies five functional areas: command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance and administration.
  • When the Secret Service assumes responsibility for a National Security Special Event (NSSE), Secret Service agents work with representatives of other federal agencies, and state and local jurisdictions. They develop a plan that includes approximately 17 working groups in areas such as transportation, credentialing, and consequence management. Representatives from appropriate agencies are requested to participate in these groups. But this plan does not necessarily follow the ICS and Unified Command structures.
  • After the DNC was over, a working group comprised of representatives from the state agencies conducted a debriefing. The participants observed that strict incident management system and unified command concepts were not exclusively used. They also said that many entities established command posts and, if a major incident did occur, no one was sure which command post would have been in charge. This group went on to recommend that the ICS and Unified Command must be used to minimize confusion of command and control by all agencies.

The experience of the DNC highlights a valuable lesson - that there should be a clearly identified regional leader, and a command structure that delineates the roles and responsibilities of each of the operation centers and how those operation centers will communicate with each other. The Boston region’s transportation network is overseen by a myriad of local, regional, and state agencies. The planning process for the convention was complicated by the fact that there was no one clear leader for transportation issues. Clarifying the transportation leadership chain of command at the start, coupled with the use of the ICS model, can help to ensure the successful planning and operation of future major public events.

Transportation Management and Security During the 2004 Democratic National Convention

Transportation Management and Security During the 2004 Democratic National Convention
Publication Sort Date
Allan DeBlasio et al
Prepared by Volpe for the USDOT

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Application Areas
System Engineering Elements

Focus Areas Taxonomy: