As far as high-profile, high-security events go, Derek Verdeyen has been around the block more than a few times.
Verdeyen, who is overseeing all of the security communications for the Democratic National Convention, can’t remember for sure how many other “National Special Security Events”—which bring together local, state, and federal agencies for G-20 conferences, political conventions, and other big-ticket gatherings—he has been involved in, but he guesses somewhere between 15 and 20.
“All of them are challenging by virtue of the magnitude,” Verdeyen said on Saturday after a briefing at the Secret Service’s communication center about 15 minutes from uptown Charlotte. “This has been very typical.”
Verdeyen was also involved in President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009—a not-so-typical assignment, when an estimated 1.8 million people thronged to the National Mall in Washington. It was the biggest gathering ever on the famous two-mile stretch of park.
“That was a challenge by virtue of the scope of the participants, the people who came out to see it,” said Verdeyen, who has been in the Secret Service for almost three decades. His official title, back in D.C., is deputy assistant director.
This week’s convention pales in comparison with that event, but the Secret Service handles all NSSE events in the same manner. Convention organizers expect about 35,000 people—including delegates, media, and protesters—to descend on Charlotte this week.
At first blush, the Secret Service’s communication center, located between the airport and the city, isn’t much to brag about. Large screens showing the news and camera feeds from uptown Charlotte flank the front wall. Ninety workstations, empty on the weekend, fill the large, barren room.
But starting on Monday, one person from more than 50 federal, state, local, and military agencies will staff the facility 24 hours a day through Friday afternoon. Almost every entity you can think of—including Amtrak, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Federal Aviation Administration—will have a representative.
Verdeyen’s title for the convention is supervisor of this impressive facility, called the “multiagency communication center,” or MAC. He’s the point man making sure that all of the security planning by the Secret Service officials and other agencies is put into action without a hitch.
“This thing does not exist in the planning phases,” Verdeyen said, referring to the MAC. “It only exists in the execution phase. I think it is critical to the extent that we are here to support the operational security plan.”
A car fire on Interstate 85, for example, could affect a bus of arriving delegates, he said. Part of his job is to determine how or whether normal incidents affect the convention and then decide what to do about them—and what agencies to coordinate with.
“It’s information-sharing,” Verdeyen said, repeating a phrase heard a lot in describing his operation in Charlotte.