Organizers for this year’s Republican National Convention in Milwaukee are preparing for a wide range of possible security threats, ranging from relatively minor disruptions to attacks on critical infrastructure and communications. 

Andy Bochman, senior grid strategist for Idaho National Laboratory’s National and Homeland Security directorate, discussed security measures for the 2024 RNC during Tuesday’s meeting of the Milwaukee Rotary Club. He’s involved with the planning group focused on electricity and other infrastructure, which has been gauging the readiness of utilities in the area ahead of the event in July. 

“There’s going to be a lot of scrutiny paid to this town, and paid to your equipment and your services in the coming months,” he said, referencing conversations with local utility leaders. “Do you feel like you’re ready? Everybody that is in the room from the government is standing by ready to help you.” 

Similar to presidential inaugurations and State of the Union addresses, the GOP convention is designated by the federal government as a National Special Security Event, Bochman explained. 

NSSE security measures include police dogs for detecting bombs, heavy police and often National Guard presence, sharpshooters and “other tactical capabilities,” flight restrictions in the area and even efforts to detect possible weapons of mass destruction, according to his presentation. 

Bochman noted high-profile gatherings like the RNC attract an array of “adversarial interest” that he and others on the preparedness team need to preempt.

“All the way from somebody from certain walks of society that wants to see if they can make a splash and cause a disruption, kind of for the fun of it … all the way to, what we’re really geared up for is nation-state level of activity,” he said. “And these would be folks that would be targeting critical infrastructure.” 

He pointed to electricity and natural gas, communications networks and water treatment as potential targets. The owners and operators of these assets already have significant cybersecurity programs, but all “have problems, because there is no such thing” as a perfectly secure organization, he said. 

“We are geared up for, and sometimes do see those highest level, tier one level threats and are mobilized to defend against them,” he told Rotary members. 

Related efforts involve the U.S. Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, FBI and other federal entities. John Bush, an expert with the Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency, yesterday said the Secret Service will create a multi-agency coordination center in Milwaukee to centralize efforts across these and other organizations. 

“Our hope is that we work really hard in the 18 months leading up to July, so that we have a very boring week on our emergency preparedness public safety mission,” he said.

During the second week of April, other specialists from the Idaho National Laboratory will be visiting the American Family Insurance headquarters in Madison for a cybersecurity training event. Bochman said around 100 people across participating agencies will receive training in preparation for the convention. 

Watch a video of the Rotary Club meeting (free registration required). 

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