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Illustration by Anna Godeassi​​

Partnerships and Potential in Chicago

Take one look at Chicago’s skyline and it’s impossible to ignore that the city is one of a kind. There’s the sheer magnitude of it—Chicago is home to more than 1,300 high-rises, four of which rank among America’s tallest buildings. Those structures are reflected in the expansive waters of Lake Michigan, where 26 miles of open lakefront allow both a busy port and 29 beaches to thrive in the otherwise landlocked Midwestern city. There are 8,300 acres of green space and 580 parks tucked throughout the city, and the constant bustle of Chicago’s elevated and subway trains, buses, full-scale commuter rail, water taxis, and two major airports that transport its 2.7 million citizens and 55 million yearly visitors. Take a look at that skyline, and it is clear why Chicago is sometimes called The City in a Garden.

However, even the most pristine gardens have serpents. Chicago has seen its share of violence, which has been captured in headlines and brought into discourse about gun violence, poverty, and policing. For President Donald Trump, the city has served as a prime example of danger and lawlessness, leading him to state—falsely—that Chicago’s murder rate is the highest it’s been in 45 years, and that controversial stop-and-frisk tactics should be used by law enforcement. 

Despite the rhetoric, Chicago is ranked as the 24th most dangerous city in America, based on 2016 FBI statistics. And this is the type of perspective that law enforcement and security professionals in Chicago need to be mindful of, says Tom Henkey, director of emergency management at Titan Security Group in Chicago and member of the ASIS International Cultural Properties Council.

“Here in Chicago, you absolutely have to have awareness of what the threats and hazards are, and crime is definitely one of many you have to account for,” Henkey says. “The key is not to overreact but put that hazard potential in context. I think what’s really important as security professionals, or frankly as law enforcement professionals, is being honest and truthful, and there’s sometimes a tendency to see what the flavor of the day is—what’s getting attention, the thing we’re hearing on the media, or what our department is getting beat up for, and to perhaps overreact. We need to resist that. We need to be as objective and statistical as we possibly can.”

The iconic components that make Chicago what it is—from the top of its skyscrapers to the streets in the South Side—have shaped the city’s infrastructure. Its hospitals and emergency responders, along with its businesses and retail, are learning how to work together to adapt to existing and emerging threats.

Fostering Cross-Pollination 

Public-private partnerships are nothing new in Chicago. A critical infrastructure resilience task force was established in 2010, but it wasn’t until Chicago hosted the 2012 NATO summit that the city’s law enforcement and businesses knew the partnership was ready to be taken to the next level.

Henkey, who at the time of the summit worked as the senior emergency management coordinator for the city, says the all-hands-on-deck undertaking revealed the strengths and weaknesses of Chicago’s emergency management. 

“There were a lot of protests and significant terrorism concerns, and as a part of the after-action for that big event, we modified that early organization,” Henkey explains. “It was always sort of a public-private coordinating body, but it got better defined and the membership got expanded as a part of that 2012 after-action process.”

The critical infrastructure task force was renamed the Chicago Public/Private Task Force (CPPTF) and is cochaired by the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications and ChicagoFIRST, which represents the private sector. Henkey describes it as a network of networks—the task force is made up of representatives from each of the city’s responder and infrastructure departments, as well as private and nonprofit groups representing business districts and industries.   

“That was the big lightbulb idea for us,” Henkey says. “Everyone sitting in on that group is expected not to represent their specific company or nonprofit or government agency, but to represent all hotels, or cultural properties, or retail establishments. You have to put on a different hat when you’re taking part in the CPPTF, and they hold people to that.”

The CPPTF has been a success—it has strengthened bonds between critical public and private players and has put in place systems that will help the city get up and running in the event of a crisis. It has spearheaded an effort to build a functional business resumption access program (BRAP), which uses a frequently updated list of stakeholders to determine who should get access to businesses and other infrastructure after a largescale incident.

“On that list are folks like building engineers, property managers, security directors, and heads of IT—those are the people who can get the systems back up and running,” Henkey explains. “Frankly, we don’t want the CEO in there—we want the tech who’s going to get the computers working, or the engineers who are going to fire up the HVAC systems.”

All of Chicago’s public sector has agreed to use the just-in-time credentialing system, so whoever is the incident commander and manning the perimeter of an area affected by a disaster will have access to the list.

“CPPTF came up with the idea of doing that just-in-time rather than using a formal credential that people carry and then inevitably don’t have with them when a crisis occurs,” Henkey says. The task force created a cross-sector training video that educates nonprofits, offices, and first responders on how the BRAP works and the roles each sector plays. 

“Having an understanding among those operations folks that they are going to be first in is going to be really important—don’t wait for someone to call you and say it’s time to come back, be ready to deploy and watch your messaging,” Henkey notes. “We know we’re going to have this problem, we’ve seen it in other cities. We haven’t had that need in Chicago, but we know it’s going to happen at some point, so let’s be prepared and flexible and ready to deploy.”

That’s what Henkey says businesses and first responders alike should be focused on: understanding what threats face the city, even if they haven’t happened yet. 

“In general, that task force and most security professionals here in Chicago have the opinion that we really have to look at this from an all-hazards perspective,” he says. “We need to be accurate in our risk assessments, which are definitely going to include criminal activity and the potential for terrorist activity. But we also have extreme weather—ice storms and 100-degree heat—and both of those potentially could kill a whole lot of people. We’re working with very dense infrastructure—a lot of high-rises—and very dense transportation as well.”

Conducting honest and truthful risk assessments—and properly communicating those findings to both business stakeholders and the public sector—is key to addressing the challenges that come with doing business in Chicago.

CPPTF facilitates the sharing of those threat assessments within the task force, allowing the public and private sectors to train together in preparation. Larger facilities will bring in members of the public sector to train with them—highly specialized teams such as SWAT or HAZMAT will train side-by-side with private sector safety and security personnel in their buildings or venues. The practice allows all involved in incident response to have prior interactions with each other and understand standard operating procedures and expectations. 

Henkey notes that an example of Chicago’s commitment to partnering with the private sector was the decision a few years ago to include a member of the private sector in the city’s emergency operations center. The decision was controversial, he says, because sometimes cities opt to create a separate operations center for business. 

“You get your private sector folks and put them in a room together, but we think that’s a little duplicative,” he says. “This was a good example of saying that if we’re truly going to be interactive with cross sectors, we better put our money where our mouth is and that means putting a private sector representative in the emergency operations center—trusting them enough and training them enough on how it works, and sitting shoulder to shoulder with them during an actual crisis.”

The decision is no longer controversial because the reconfigured operations center has been a success, Henkey says. “Sometimes you have to stick your neck out and try this, and if it doesn’t work then we’ll go back to the drawing board,” he notes. “Just like the task force evolved and got deeper and broader, you’ve got to be willing to go back and do risk assessments and figure out what is working and what isn’t.”​

Growing A Safe Haven

On Chicago’s South Side, one security department is teaming up with multidisciplinary groups to manage the crises that arrive at its doorstep every day.

When Chicago recently gained an important addition to its infrastructure—a Level 1 adult trauma center in the South Side—it transformed the University of Chicago Medicine’s security posture. The South Side—which has long been notorious for its crime—has gone more than 30 years without an adult trauma center, and after a decades-long effort the new center opened its doors on 1 May, 2018. The trauma center is already the largest and busiest facility of its type in Illinois, says Scott Levy, CPP, director of public safety at the University of Chicago Medicine. 

“Clearly they are serving a need—there are a lot of injuries, particularly penetrating trauma, seen from the South Side of Chicago’s violence,” Levy says. Before the trauma center opened its doors, patients had to be transported across the city to get the treatment they needed.

“The remarkable aspect of Chicago trauma centers is how many patients survive because of the outstanding healthcare provided—not just here, but at the five other Level 1 trauma centers in the city of Chicago and the surrounding environment, for the sustained level of violence and activity that occurs from shootings and stabbings, which we see our fair share of,” Levy says. 

When he took the job at the medical center almost three years ago, Levy was tasked with creating a security plan for the new facility. Today, the challenges he and his team face are not as much from the patients themselves as they are from the people who accompany them.

Levy describes scenarios that can take the trauma center from a place of relative order to one of potential chaos: The arrival of multiple patients from the same incident, particularly violent episodes involving adversarial groups. A crowd of people who arrive even before the patient does because they heard about the incident on social media. A large number of people who want to visit a patient’s bedside. Complicated group or family dynamics, especially when the patient is seriously injured. All of these scenarios need to be managed calmly and quickly. “Even a well-behaved group of 50 people can overtake an environment very quickly, and oftentimes the groups are not well behaved,” Levy notes.

Upon his arrival three years ago, Levy began preparing for both the physical and cultural changes that would have to be made to accommodate a Level 1 trauma center. 

“It was crucial that I and my team were involved when the trauma center was a hole in the ground, a blank piece of paper, and we were involved from the very earliest stages in helping to craft the design of the facility,” Levy explains. “We determined the physical layout, points of access, alarms, cameras, panic buttons, as well as different specialties needed to treat the various patient populations we were serving, from the trauma bays themselves to behavioral health pods to all the various different services offered.” 

Key to managing the unpredictable flow of people is the effective use of layers of protection and various lockdown protocols, Levy says. He points to the center’s updated visitor management center as a main component in keeping things orderly. Previously, visitor management was a manual process that used paper and pen, and a restriction list kept manually in a spreadsheet. 

“A lot of the challenges we had from a security standpoint became, who are these people and how did they get up here?” Levy says. 

Today, the trauma center uses a computerized system that requires that the visitor to produce a state ID, which is checked against the facility’s watch list, and then provides a wearable, color-coded badge.

“One of the nice features of the system is that we can control how many visitors are allowed per bedside,” Levy notes. “If six people are there and more show up, one or more of the original six would need to check out before a new visitor is admitted with a badge. That’s been a key success thus far, and we’re seeing an average of 1,800 visitors a day. I think a lot of that is a testament to our team to be able to stand up the system.”

Levy emphasizes the importance of the role that properly trained personnel play—most employees had never worked in a trauma center before, he says.

“There was the challenge of bringing our existing core group up to speed, as well as recruiting some folks who have experience in other trauma centers, and training them all,” Levy says. “We train in verbal de-escalation, how to talk people down without talking down to people, hand-to-hand self-defense, restraint training, handcuffing techniques, and some of the various physical and mental attributes that are necessary to operate at an effective level for a public safety officer in a trauma center environment.”

When things do start to get out of hand, the trauma center relies on the University of Chicago Police Department. “They are our first responders, and we work very closely with them,” Levy says. “We cross-train and exercise, and do a lot of team building, because we are working together on a daily basis, but as major incidents or criminal activities occur, we’re reaching out to university police, who are very effective in their response and partnership with us from that standpoint. It’s a true partnership that we work every day to build upon, and I value the strengths and benefits that come from working with the university police department.”

Levy acknowledges that the violence which often plagues the trauma center’s patients isn’t going away any time soon—but that, too, is taken into consideration during the facility’s risk assessments and treatment approaches alike. A multidisciplinary team made up of psychology, spiritual care, social work, and violence recovery program experts is integral to serving both the patients and visitors that fill the trauma center’s halls. 

“It’s incumbent upon the city, as well as institutions like the University of Chicago and other trauma centers, to develop programs to best address both the actual medical issues and, even more so, the underlying causes of many of these situations,” Levy says. “Whether it’s unemployment, unsafe housing, domestic violence, or gang activity, these scenarios have a very negative impact on the overall community within Chicago and the greater environment. We must focus on helping to provide a safe haven of care for those patients who are injured, as well as not being a secondary place of violence. Part of what we see every day is some of the outstanding care provided by our clinical team, and we see how we can best partner with them from a public safety standpoint to ensure that our little piece of the community is as safe an environment as possible, that there are not ongoing threats of violence or barriers to care within our walls or campus, and that we help to bring about that access to care that is so vitally needed.”


Lilly Chapa is a former associate editor at Security Management. Follow her on Twitter: @lillychapa