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News & Press: MCAA Announcements

Emergency System Rolling Out at the Capitol

Tuesday, September 26, 2017  
Posted by: Laura Fenstermaker
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From Minnesota Lawyer

The State Patrol is implementing a “mass notification” system that will transmit direct alerts if an active shooter or some other disaster strikes at the Capitol complex.

The system — which will send out alerts via text message, telephone and email — will be available for all state employees on the Capitol complex, said State Patrol Capt. Eric Roeske, director of Capitol security and executive protection.

Others who spend a lot of time at the Capitol or other areas of the complex — think lawyers, lobbyists and reporters — will be able to subscribe, Roeske said.

The rollout was discussed briefly during an Advisory Committee on Capitol Area Securityhearing Tuesday. Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, a member of the security committee, said he pushed for such a system five years ago but heard nothing more and thought it had slipped through the cracks.

It came to mind again last week, he said, when his son — a student at Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park — received a text message warning there was an active shooter on campus. The message was incorrect — the incident actually involved a discovered pipe bomb. But it reminded Limmer that a system could be put in place at the Capitol.

One is coming, Roeske told him, which will be similar to systems in place at many college campuses.

“We are in the process of rolling a mass notification system for the Capitol complex,” he said. “It’s a complex procedure because of the multiple agencies and user groups, but it is something that I can tell you is in process right now.” Roeske said it will be introduced “in the very near future.”

Lt. Tiffani Nielson, the State Patrol’s public information officer, said the system is being purchased through Everbridge, a security vendor with U.S. offices in Burlington, Mass., and Pasadena, California.

“The system will be tested at one state agency before rolling it out to all [state] employees,” Nielson said. “It is being purchased through the state contracting process, but the final cost is not yet available until the testing process is complete.”

Everbridge says on its website that its mass notification system supports more than 100 delivery methods with voice recording, text-to-speech conversion, push notifications, rich text formatting, and text messaging. It can target individuals or groups, the company says.

Roeske said state employees likely will be easy to enroll. “Obviously, for state employees, we can find them because we know who they are,” he said. “It will be an option for others to sort of subscribe.”

No details are yet available on how lobbyists, reporters and others who frequent the Capitol can sign up to receive the alerts.

Pop-up protests

Much of Tuesday’s hearing was taken up with discussions about Capitol security personnel — both State Patrol troopers and non-uniformed security workers — and how they can best deal with what were termed “non-permitted” events at the Capitol. Those are pop-up gatherings like the unscheduled and highly disruptive March 4 counterprotest against supporters of President Donald Trump.

Trump supporters had the proper permits; counterprotesters did not.

Roeske explained that security staff allows non-permitted groups to demonstrate — as long as they behave and the tenants of the buildings they occupy have not asked them to leave.

“We view the permitting system as a reservation for space, and as such we ensure that other groups do not unreasonably disrupt a permitted event,” he said. “But we do not expel or interfere with spontaneous groups unless they disrupt a permitted event or the government process.”

Limmer asked Roeske if he feels the 13 troopers and the non-uniformed security personnel in the House and Senate sergeant-at-arms offices are sufficient, given what appear to be rising political tensions.

Roeske said that when situations call for it, his office reaches out to other on-duty state patrol troopers in the area and to surrounding law enforcement agencies for help. The problem is that it gets hard to predict when gatherings will get confrontational, he said.

“We had obviously some situations this spring where we had larger, more confrontational groups arrive at the same time, and we called in folks to help us out,” Roeske said. “We also had situations that we thought were going to go that direction, we called in a bunch of people — and then a handful showed up.”

Demonstrations have to be handled case-by-case, he said.

Resurrect retirees?

In response to questions from Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, Lt. Col. Shelly Schrofer said the state patrol has sought no further funding over the past five years since the old Legislative Security Officers program was decommissioned in favor of hiring full-time uniformed troopers to protect the Capitol campus.

Most legislative security officers were retired law enforcement officers who could carry concealed weaponsbut had no actual police authority. A primary reason the program was ended, Schrofer said, was over liability concerns. At the program’s peak, 11 retired officers served in that role, compared to the 13 State Patrol officers now working full-time on the Capitol campus.

Despite that increased presence, Limmer said, he frequently hears that that Capitol lacks sufficient security. “I don’t know why we have stepped away from that role,” he said of the decommissioned legislative security officers. “That might be something for us to explore.”

Bob Meyerson, the House sergeant-at-arms and an adviser to the committee, seconded that idea. He said that though more troopers are now on site, they are distributed throughout buildings on the complex. They no longer focus exclusively on the Capitol and committee rooms the way the retirees once did, he said.

That means most legislative committee meetings go unprotected, Meyerson said. Except for predictably volatile hearings, like last session’s House Public Safety committee hearings dealing with increased protester penalties after some high-profile police shootings, it is relatively rare to see security personnel in committee rooms.

“There is a void there that hasn’t been filled,” Meyerson said. Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, chair of the committee, cued in that concern and suggested it be explored in future hearings.

After the meeting, Limmer confirmed that he wants more security presence at the Capitol, particularly at regular session committee hearings.

“It doesn’t have to be retired troopers,” he said. “Just the presence of some uniformed authority. We shouldn’t be allowing protesters to interrupt committee hearings. We shouldn’t have people threatened by loud noise or people shaking fists in your face.”

“If the Legislature is concerned then, I am quite sure that they can vet those requests for additional funding,” Smith told reporters. “If that is necessary, that will come through the committee process.”

Limmer, who also is chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, appears ready to get that process rolling. He stopped barely short of telling Roeske and Schrofer to ask his committee for supplemental funding next session to beef up Capitol security.

“I think we could make room in our budget for it,” Limmer told the officers. “So if you haven’t caught it yet, I am giving you a signal that there is keen interest in our committee.”

“Received,” Roeske responded.

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