Prepare for THE ARRIVAL! (of a VIP)
June 22, 2015 8:45 PM   Subscribe

Have you had to prep for the arrival of a major VIP (eg a Queen? a Head of State? the head of the United Nations) to your office or factory? What did you have to do?

Reading this Vanity Fair article about what a podcaster had to do to prepare for the arrival of the President of the United States (link) (snipers on the garage roof! seperate phone lines! THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES HAS HIS OWN BRANDED TO-GO COFFEE CUP!) ... it kinda boggles my mind as to what people have to do to prepare - and seems a tad excessive to me...
posted by almostwitty to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
POTUS came to my workplace once upon a time. The advance team was noticeably onsite for over a week in advance - who knows when they first showed up. Lots of stuff got moved/removed - things like trashcans and water coolers vanished (like poof!) and things like transfer points for parts got very clean and very empty. Several corridors had all their windows papered over. Then lots of heavy black curtains to block views from further down said corridors. And a tent for the limo to park in, completely shrouded in more heavy curtains. And barricades all along the limo route (even through the already very access-controlled factory yard). That day, we mostly weren't allowed in or through places he was going to be, with access controlled by joint teams of our people paired with visiting ear-wired Secret service-ish suit types. There was a conspicuous difference in dress codes.

People actually in the clean room performing essential tasks were kept away from the viewable end of the space by more Secret Service dudes wearing the usual white bunny suits, except with holstered guns on the outside of the suit. Not a good look, even relative to the normally very flattering balaclava, booties, and front-zip jumpsuit, btw. We had to do a pretty major cleaning event afterwards to get the micro contamination back to normal.

There were rumors that various contract workers were asked to stay offsite that day, but, rumors.
posted by janell at 9:48 PM on June 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

In America, VIP prepares YOU!

As seen previously in the Green, "Why does President Obama's mug have a lid on it during his appearance on The Daily Show from last night?", the Secret Service ensures that the President doesn't casually accept food or drink unvetted people-- sometimes they do this by vetting the hell out of everyone doing prep, like when the President "drops in" on his favorite burger joint, and sometimes they just make sure he doesn't have a reason to accept drinks by providing them.

I don't have any link to support this, but I've read that a restaurant "drop in" sometimes means telling the busser with the felony record to stay away from the restaurant for the duration. The Secret Service allows regular patrons because of the obscurity of the president's schedule (in detail, at least), because they can deal with improvised threats by posting a guard between the principle and the threat, and that allows them to deal with problems up to what The Professor can manage without notice.

Since Obama's appearance at Maron's was publicized or leaked or whatever, known to the public, they had to be prepared to manage a larger area-- Maron's property, the surrounding houses, and anyone within 1000 yards and line-of-sight of their snipers, more or less. Securing the president, a public person, is a balancing act between preparing when the president is predictable, and shielding/defending when he's unpredictable by the public.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:51 PM on June 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

I met with PResident Clinton after he had left office. He came to our office in Westchester County about a 10 minute drive from his house on Old House Lane in Chappaqua. It was not so much what we had to do to prepare as much as what the Secret Service did to prepare. I know they vetted the 5 folks in our office. I know they brought their own closed water bottles. I know they came the day before to check out the egresses of our building. I know they tested our phone lines and checked the cell coverage. My cell bars went to full for the hour before until about 20 minutes after he left. Normally I have half the bars. I personally just ended up shaking his hand and saying hello. My partner spoke to him for about 20 minutes.

I have run into President Clinton at Lange's (Little Store and Delicatessen) as well as at a store that is now closed that sold ice cream.

I was told that there is a HUGE difference in coverage/protection from when he is in office to when he is out. A sitting President announces his/her schedule well in advance. An out of office President does not. When Clinton was President and he went into the local Starbucks, people were wanded and prevented from entering. After he left office, there would be two agents with him, but since it was unscheduled, he would walk right in.

Both William Jefferson and Hilary Rodham Clinton have marched in the Chappaqua Memorial Day Parade since they moved to the town in 2007. There are agents that walk with them, but they are pretty unobtrusive. I spoke to one of the organizers of the parade and he indicated that while he was informed a day in advance, no one else was other than the New Castle Police and the Town Supervisor.

A personal observation, one year, a group of veterans were dressed as civil or revolutionary war militia and periodically fired their blanks from their muskets. I saw a few SS agents literally jump. I also know the next year they did not fire blanks (or any rounds). Not sure if that was an order, an accommodation or coincidence.
posted by AugustWest at 10:03 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Things I remember from when Hilary Clinton came to our bookstore:

(1) The Secret Service was around for about two weeks prior, just kind of...doing stuff. At one point, of them got on the all-store pager and announced a "rapid deployment drill." While we did not notice any subsequent deployment on their part, a few assistant managers did take it as an excuse to stride purposefully around while wearing their best rock-jawed Joe Friday expressions for a few minutes.

(2) All the staff members who were working that day had to be vetted. To my knowledge, nobody was rejected.

(3) We were all supposed to be on high alert for abandoned backpacks, satchels, etc- but the only one we found turned out to be the CEO's misplaced gym bag.

(4) There were "bomb threat checklists," printed on heavy cardstock, placed by every phone. The Secret Service meant to collect these at the end of the visit, but I think most of them ended up getting light-fingered away by staff members.

(5) On the day of the event, they brought in a bomb dog. He was, beyond a doubt, the most beautiful German shepherd I have ever seen. We were all instructed that we would not, under any circumstances, be allowed to pet him, even though he seemed cheerful and frisky and goofy and likesuchagoodgoodgooddoggie. I later found out that the first two or three clerks who arrived that morning did get to play with him, but that someone in charge decided that letting all twenty of us do that would be deleterious to operational discipline, or something, Alas.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:29 PM on June 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

Here is an article describing the preparation of a Canadian hotel for a visit by British royals. Preparation for the visit involved a team working for several months in advance. Considerations include security, refurbishment and dashings of "protocol" (a curtsey should be 'a discrete but dignified bob' apparently).
posted by rongorongo at 2:03 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've met Margarethe II, the Queen of Denmark; it was back in 1989, and a totally different situation from everyone above.

I was at Thule AB in northern Greenland; Greenland belongs to Denmark, and the queen was on an inspection tour. We all knew she was coming --- LOTS of advance warning --- and the main thing back in those pre-9/11 days was cleaning. You know how there's the cleaning you do for you, and the extreme cleaning for done for your disapproving inlaws? Yeah, like that, but on steroids. Because of it's location well north of the Arctic Circle, there isn't any paving at Thule; the roads and runways are just extremely hard-packed dirt. We had to literally go over every inch of the base, grooming it for trash like discarded cigarette butts.

There wasn't any obvious vetting of base personnel, but then again Thule is a very controlled area to begin with --- there isn't any town or even a road that might eventually LEAD to a town: just the base, set down in the middle of nothing. Don't know about now, but back then the only way in or out was one of the two weekly delivery planes coming in from McGuire AFB in New Jersey; and they wouldn't fly in cruddy weather. And, too, the ONLY people at Thule are the thousand or so US Air Force personnel or (Danish and American) contractors hired to be there, so in that sense everyone had been checked in advance: they knew at all times, out of a small pool, exactly who was on base.

Other than the obsessive cleaning (old military joke: clean it or salute it), there was a certain amount of what you might call training in How To Greet Royalty: don't speak until she speaks to you, how to curtesy/bow and the proper way to shake the queen's hand (but again: only if she reaches for your hand first!). Finally she arrived, and everybody dressed up and we stood in little 'receiving lines' to be presented to her.

All in all, a very VIP performance, although --- because it was the Danish queen not the US president, and because the world wasn't as security conscious in general back then --- a much lower-key operation than you saw for Obama.
posted by easily confused at 2:36 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Other things your VIP's staff will be thinking about and that they might involve you in:

-will there will be press? when will they arrive? what areas will they have access to and how should they be staged to get a good shot?
-will the VIP give a gift? will they receive one? if so, what will it be and where will be it be stored before and after the exchange?
-what will happen step-by-step, minute-by-minute during the visit? who will the VIP be introduced to? who will do the introduction? will there be a handler/pusher/puller the keep things moving?
-where is the closest restroom? how will the VIP signal if they need to use it?
-will there be closed door meeting or private meetings separate from the main event?
-where will the VIP go if they need to make a phone call or confer with staff privately?
-where will the VIP's support staff wait if they're not needed by the VIP or participating directly in the visit?
posted by whitewall at 5:10 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I work at a well-known university, and have friends who have worked here for decades and know all the people who really make the campus run. A few stories I've heard:

A previous Israeli Prime Minister, I think while they were in office: janell's description of random things being moved around, incredibly clean mailrooms, etc. They did a security sweep of every closet and behind every piece of equipment in the machine room. There were large people with large guns on all the roofs along his route and covering large indoor spaces as well, and folks in suits trying to look inconspicuous everywhere. (They were better dressed than anyone else on campus; they stood out.) There were rumors of folks doing a better job of being undercover in hoodies and jeans.

Muckety-muck at the FBI: Almost as much security as the Prime Minister, but no visible guns. Nevertheless, obvious with the suits. Less concern about the physical space, more vetting of staff and folks who might interact with him.

Bill Gates: Less showy security, but scheduled to incredible precision. Lots of pre-meetings, such that his meetings were kind of formalities where he okayed the info in the pre-meetings.

Another, less-famous businessperson nevertheless worth billions of dollars: similar. I was actually involved in giving tours to them, and they had handlers run through the whole day, complete with having us give our spiel and telling us to avoid certain topics and focus on others. No visible security, but an entourage of smart people around them taking notes etc. such that we weren't sure who the VIP was until after the fact, which was kind of a ridiculous omission on the part of the handlers.

Dalai Lama: Had a bodyguard or two, but a friend of mine happened to cross paths with him between buildings and got to say hi and shake his hand. No way was she vetted, so his security detail seemed comparatively relaxed considering his stature.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:26 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I work in an office building that's attached/adjacent to a hotel where the Prime Minister of Japan recently stayed. I didn't know this as I was walking to the office from the subway station, so the first thing I noticed was that literally the entire block around the hotel was covered in marked and unmarked police cars, police vans, K9 cars, sheriff's cars, bomb detection squad cars, and so on and so forth (at first I thought that the word had gotten out that we have donuts on Fridays...)

There were tons of both uniformed and suited security, both municipal and private, walking around purposefully with radios, bomb dogs, etc etc. Then there was a horde of what appeared to be not so much security as lesser toadies of some sort who were giving orders in Japanese. This confused me greatly because the doorman told me it was the President of China who was visiting.
posted by Aubergine at 9:49 AM on June 23, 2015

I and a few friends once saw the Dalai Lama in burlingame a few years ago, near the airport hotels, on Memorial Day weekend walking very slowly on the beach behind a mexican restaurant we were eating at before a convention. I saw a couple of monks and a nun, and maybe one bodyguard, all walking at a slow pace.
posted by gryftir at 10:55 AM on June 23, 2015

Many years ago, I walked into the Stanford (CA) shopping center and noticed some secret service types, along with a dark skinned man in a nice suit. It turned out to be the president of Sri Lanka, just out doing some shopping.

I saw the Philippine President at Valley Fair Mall in San Jose. There were a fair number of obvious security people, but he had lots of (presumably Filipino) folks coming up and shaking his hand with no interference. Again, several years ago; who know what has changed recently?
posted by blob at 3:16 PM on June 23, 2015

The Queen of England came to my house once (well ok, it was to my university, but she saw the bit where I slept). There were a few people walking around for a couple of days before hand scoping it out, a bomb dog sniffing at all the bins in the morning, and apparently there were marksmen up on the roof.

The best bit of the day was her conversation with one of the students:
Queen: "Oh this is such a beautiful place, you are so lucky to live here"
Student: "Oh, er, thanks. I s'pose your house is pretty nice too though"
Queen: "... Why yes, I'm very grateful for it"
posted by Ned G at 2:42 AM on June 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

it kinda boggles my mind as to what people have to do to prepare - and seems a tad excessive to me...

FWIW & IME, I think the prep & security are greatly reduced if you're not talking about an actual sitting head of state. I had a gig at a campaign rally (outside in downtown Cleveland) for Obama during his first run - he wasn't there, but former President Clinton was the main speaker, and while there were plenty of obvious Secret Service agents and cops wandering around, I was 200 feet from the former head of the U.S. with a van full of mysterious black boxes and all that happened was I got a quick visual inspection when I arrived and a few passes from the bomb-sniffing dogs once I was set up. It actually wasn't all that much more intense than many other large public events post-9/11.

Sitting U.S. Senators seem to get a couple of (maybe) Secret Service agents & some extra cops, if they want; House Representatives and former Congresspeople (Senate or House) and other government officials don't tend to have any extra obvious security at all. I've worked a few Presidential/primary campaign events where we had to give the campaign team a list of who was going to be on site (at any time before the event) so they could run background checks - once on site our ID's were checked against the list and we had to be done setting up equipment 24 hrs before the event so the Secret Service could lock down the space and finalize the security set-up. But again, from my perspective, not all that nuts.

OTOH, I know some people who used to participate in providing A/V gear for the White House Easter Egg hunt, and their stories are pretty intense - starting with a perimeter several blocks away from the White House where every truck had to be unloaded completely, and every case full of equipment had to be completely emptied and given a thorough visual check by agents and sniffed by the dogs; and then everyone had color-coded ID badges which signaled where on the grounds you were allowed to be, and anytime you looked like you might even be thinking of going outside your approved zone, a Secret Service agent would basically pop up out of nowhere and politely ask what it was you were looking for that would take you outside of your zone. The roof of the White House was well stocked with heavily armed agents, too.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:46 PM on June 24, 2015

Used to work for the U.S. Department of Something-or-Other in DC; sometime in 2009 FLOTUS went on a tour of all the different Department HQs to introduce herself. When it was announced she was coming to ours, we were invited to sign up weeks ahead of time to attend her speech in person (in one of our cavernous atria).

Pretty much everyone there would presumably already have a Public Trust clearance, so I have no idea how much further vetting went on behind the scenes. There were metal detectors and such and the entrance; everyone had to be in the room approximately two hours before she arrived, no entry after that point. No liquids allowed. She talked for something like 15 minutes and never once betrayed any awareness of the relatively high unsexiness factor of our Dept's mission. Everyone was thrilled.

By comparison, our Secretary (a member of the Presidential Cabinet) would walk the office hallways now and then, shaking hands with whomever he ran into (whether employees or visitors) without any visible security around.
posted by psoas at 12:45 PM on July 6, 2015

« Older Waltham, MA - Schools, especially Waltham High...   |   Dry my gin out Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.