BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Some 48 agencies charged with ensuring the security and safety of U.S. and foreign dignitaries in Hawaii for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference have centralized their operations in one major Multi-Agency Communications Center otherwise known as MACC.
Yesterday, Hawaii journalists visited that secret location in Honolulu to learn how various city, state, federal and military leaders will be monitoring events like traffic accidents, protests and dignitary travels during APEC on a 24 hour basis through Monday, November 14.
The communications center accommodates 71 seating areas for city, state, military and federal partners from which the agents work on their own computers or view three large television screens. Those include a monitor hooked up to traffic and other cameras throughout the city and a screen that posts any incidents or threats that should be tracked.
Law enforcement officials said yesterday that APEC safety requires an organized team effort, especially because Hawaii’s island setting presents unique and daunting challenges and this is the first time that APEC has been held on an island.
For example, the U.S. Coast Guard will be key to monitoring the harbors and Waikiki beach.
Captain Joanna Nunan with the U.S. Coast Guard said yesterday that there are an estimated 60,000 people a week in Waikiki, many enjoying the beach who might not know about APEC, but they will have to stay out of the Coast Guard restricted zones.
There also are restrictions placed in the harbors.
Frank Montoya, special in charge of the FBI in Hawaii, said their agency is on high alert. Agents have their eyes on some people who they know have come here to break the law. Those demonstrating their First Amendment rights in a legal manner won’t be arrested. However, Montoya said they will be closely monitoring the situation.
“There are individuals that want to cause trouble, that want to break the laws. Are they indications that some of these kinds of individual are on the island — the answer is yes. Do they have a propensity of violence are they doing anything that is causing us concern right now the answer is no but we are paying attention to who they are,” Montoya said.
There have already been several dozen arrests during the first days of APEC. An estimated two dozen Hawaiian sovereignty protestors who say they have a legal right to occupy Iolani Palace in Honolulu, were arrested on Monday. State officials said that as the nation’s only royal palace, and an important landmark in Hawaii’s history, the palace is one of the state’s most precious treasures and it needs to be protected during APEC so it won’t incur any damage.
Eight other protestors with Occupy Honolulu, a group that claims to be affiliated with Occupy Wall Street, were arrested this week after refusing to leave Thomas Square in Honolulu after the park closed. Typically homeless people sleep in Thomas Square and other parks and beaches around the island, even pitching tents and plugging in their appliances to public facilities for months at a time. But in recent days, several dozen homeless people have been swept from Honolulu including Waikiki along the routes where the dignitaries are expected to travel and other secured zones.
The participants peacefully protested APEC and what it stands for as well as the fatal shooting of Kollin Elderts, a 23-year-old Kailua man who killed in a Waikiki McDonalds Restaurant over the weekend by U.S. State Department special agent Christopher Deedy.
Deedy, who was in Hawaii to protect dignitaries during APEC, was arrested and charged with second degree murder before being released on a $250,000 bond. He will be in court November 17 to face the charges. Officials refused to address that issue at yesterday’s press conference.
Law enforcement also gave the all clear signal yesterday after checking four suspicious packages left at the University of Hawaii law school on Monday for explosives. The envelopes opened by the FBI and its public safety partners, revealed “handwritten papers of a non-threatening nature and a bible,” said FBI Special Agent Tom Simon.
The public can help to ensure safety and security during APEC by being observant and reporting anything suspicious to 9-1-1, said Greg Patton, U.S. Secret Services, Special-Agent-in-Charge for the Honolulu office. He said that information will be funneled immediately from the Honolulu Police Department to all the other relevant agencies through MACC.
President Barack Obama is hosting the APEC conference, where leaders and other dignitaries from 21 member nations and economies are meeting. The MACC operation will be on high alert when Obama arrives later this week. Traffic is expected to be impacted along the airport route to Waikiki and from Waikiki to the West Oahu side of the island, officials said yesterday, with many streets closed temporarily.
Communication will be key both in and out of MACC. Max Millien, spokesperson for the U.S. Secret Service, said yesterday that the agency did set up a twitter account for this event. This is the first time that the agency will be “tweeting” so officials can release information to the media and the public. However, the U.S. Secret Service – which normally lives up to its name – has not gone as far as setting up a Facebook page.
With every key county, state, federal and military agency and all their respective staffs on duty 24/7 during the week of APEC, the event is costing county, state and federal taxpayers a pretty penny. How much exactly, law enforcement officials won’t say, nor will they disclose the number of people are involved in the MACC operations. The tab is expected to be in millions of dollars for security alone, much of which won’t be reimbursed to the state and county by the federal government.
But tourism officials here dismiss the costs to taxpayers saying that what Hawaii will gain during APEC – a reputation among the Pacific Rim nations for being more than a tourist destination – will be invaluable to Hawaii’s future.