Security experts try to calm fears of local business leaders Tuesday ahead of the NATO Summit being held May 20-21 in Chicago. They said the summit would be roughly the size of a “small trade show,” and that they had little to fear.
Hundreds of residential building managers, many nervous about the prospects of demonstrators and tear gas outside their buildings, gathered Tuesday morning at the UIC Pavilion, where the city assured them that the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago would be roughly the size of a “small trade show,” and that they had little to fear.
In reality, of course, most trade shows that visit the city involve salesmen offering samples of the latest kitchen gadgets or medical devices, and don’t involve dozens of world leaders who are offered 24 hour Secret Service protection. The NATO event in May is expected to draw at least 60 heads of state from around the world. Each will have his or her own Secret Service detail. Each will travel in potentially disruptive motorcades through the downtown area. And their presence will require what security experts say will likely be not one, but two security perimeters: one around McCormick Place, the second at Soldier Field where an ancillary event is scheduled.
Briefers at the UIC event told the building managers they could expect around a hundred motorcades, many of which will require what are called “moving bubbles” of security. In addition to the actual world leaders, many will bring foreign ministers, who will receive State Department protection. First Ladies from the various nations will likely be moving through the city separately from their husbands.
Three protest marches have now been permitted: a Friday event, involving a nurses’ group; a demonstration at 11:30 on Sunday May 20th, by what is expected to be about a thousand Iraqi war veterans; and a protest by the group calling itself CAN-G8, two hours later, where the city said the permit application estimated 5000 demonstrators.
Officials concede those estimates are merely “placeholders”, and that the actual number of demonstrators will likely be much larger.
“Let me reiterate something, the city is open for business,” said former police superintendent Terry Hillard, now a consultant for the NATO host committee. “You’re going to be in one of the most secure areas in the United States.”
At the same time, Hillard conceded “there are going to be a few knuckleheads” who will attempt to disrupt the proceedings.
The questions from the building owners and managers ran the gamut. One attendee who manages a development near Union Station wanted to know if the protest routes would come near his building. (The answer was, probably not.) Several asked for specifics on the security footprint, which has still not been released. Some wondered if they should curtail construction activity at their buildings, which might make security officials nervous.
In nearly all instances, they were told to conduct business as usual. Deputy Chief Debra Kirby said residents should be advised to carry identification, to facilitate entry to their buildings, but she quickly added that police would not be setting up checkpoints.
At the same time, Kirby conceded that police have prepared a list of delegate hotels which are likely to be targeted by protesters, and that those will receive special attention.
It is expected the lakefront bicycle path will be closed for the duration of the NATO events.
Thomas Skweres, the president of the Apartment Building Owners and Managers’ Association (ABOMA), said access to buildings seems to be his members’ greatest concern.
“Is their daily life going to be interrupted…are they going to be safe?” Skweres said. “I think their biggest concern is just getting in and out of the buildings, and is there going to be disruption going to and from their normal day?”
Tom Dobry, the chief of the Local One training center, says his staff has held training sessions for the staffs of about 60 buildings so far, and expects to train employees of another 50 buildings before the summit in May.
“It should be like Y2K,” Dobry said. “A lot of buildup, a lot of hype, but at the end of the day, we should wake up on Tuesday morning, and say, ‘That was it?’”