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Every year, transportation planners and operators at the state and local levels prepare for and execute planned special events that occur within their jurisdiction.  As the popularity of special events has grown over the years, special event operations and coordination have increasingly become a part of the everyday transportation environment. Unique among planned special event activities are events that carry the NSSE designation.  NSSEs have been designated as such since the late 1990s; however, the attacks on September 11, 2001, created a public concern regarding the safety of large spectator events, requiring jurisdictions at every level to reconsider their planning and coordination of security arrangements.[5]  Moreover, increased coordination among the various departments and agencies is even more vital as the personnel and funding resources needed to support these events are constrained.  These events include, but are not limited to, presidential inaugurations, presidential nominating conventions, major sports events, and major international meetings.  There were 35 of these events between September 1998 and February 2010.  An NSSE places the USSS in the position of lead federal agency for the design and implementation of the operational security plan.  In most cases, this plan includes, and directly affects, the transportation system for the jurisdiction in which the NSSE will occur.  Special planning considerations must address costs for reimbursement, resources for allocation, and the jurisdiction to navigate the coordination required to host a successful NSSE. 

Once an event receives an NSSE designation, the USSS relies on partnerships with federal, state, and local officials to provide a safe and secure environment for the event and for those in attendance.  Resources used as part of past NSSE operational security plans that NSSE-designated events could deploy include physical infrastructure, security fencing and barricades, special access accreditation badges, K-9 Teams, and other security technologies.[6]

According to the US Department of Justice, pre-event planning should begin 12 to 18 months before the date of the event, if possible.[7]  At the federal level, pre-event planning may begin 2 to 3 years prior to a major special event.[8]  Often, major national and regional events involve multiple federal, state, and local agencies.[9]  Additional key partners include fire, EMS, transportation, public works, health, and other public agencies and the private sector—businesses affected by the event, as well as private security.[10]  Planning implementation includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  1. Establish a steering committee
  2. Establish subcommittees
  3. Identify and acquire resources
  4. Construct an operational security plan
  5. Establish protocols
  6. Conduct training
  7. Execute the plan
  8. Complete after-action reviews.

Generally, an NSSE will encompass all aspects of a jurisdiction’s resources and will require participation and buy-in at the highest levels.  The importance of the role of both the local and state DOTs/DPWs cannot be understated.  The effect on a jurisdiction’s transportation system will greatly decrease with the appropriate level of attention provided early, and throughout, the planning process.  With appropriate coordination, cooperation, and negotiation, event-day activities will be successful when transportation professionals are able to apply their knowledge and expertise into the operations of the NSSE.  Post-NSSE activities are also an essential part of the event.  In addition to ensuring the safety of the public and the successful return of the transportation system back to pre-event operating levels, transportation professionals must also consider after-action reporting and lessons learned. 

At the federal level, the NRF describes ESFs as a structure for coordinating support for response to an incident.[11]  Many local jurisdictions across the United States have also adopted this ESF structure in an effort to streamline coordination both horizontally and vertically at all levels of government.  In the NRF ESF framework, the role of transportation is ESF #1.  ESF #1 provides transportation assistance in domestic incident management.[12]  The NRF also stipulates that the primary responsibility for management of incidents involving transportation rests with state and local authorities and the private sector, which own and operate the majority of the nation’s transportation resources.[13]  While an NSSE is not an incident in the context of the NRF, this language suggests an expanded role for a local jurisdiction’s DOT/DPW during the pre-event planning, event, and post-event phases. 

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Presidential Decision Directive 62 (PDD 62), “Protection Against Unconventional Threats to the Homeland and Americans Overseas,” issued on May 22, 1998, included the designation that the USSS will be the lead agency in the planning, implementation, and coordination of operational security for events of national significance.[14]  Congressional Act P.L106-544, “Presidential Threat Protection Act of 2000,” approved on December 19, 2000, expanded the role of the USSS to plan, coordinate, and implement security operations at special events of national significance.[15]  It was at this point that special events were designated NSSEs.[16]  Today, these events include presidential inaugurations, major international summits held in the United States, major sporting events, and presidential nominating conventions.[17]

Factors contributing to the designation of an NSSE include the anticipated attendance by US officials and foreign dignitaries, the size of the event, and the significance of the event.[18]  While in the past, the President directs the designation of an NSSE, today the Secretary of the DHS, acting as the representative for the President, has responsibility for the designation.[19] 

Since 2004, the FHWA has been working to provide information concerning traffic management during planned special events.  While an extensive array of publications exist on the subject of planned special events, FHWA understands that the NSSE is still an area of planning requiring further information.  This is due to the infrequent occurrence of this type of event, the likelihood that it could occur in jurisdictions with little or no exposure to an NSSE, and the overall complexity and coordination required to host an NSSE without incidents.


The purpose of this document is to provide a framework to assist state and local transportation professionals with planning and operations for NSSEs.  This document includes examples and practices that local jurisdictions employ with transportation responsibilities, as well as strategies that have been effective for planning and operations.  This document aims to provide a variety of approaches for tailoring to NSSEs in any local jurisdiction. 

Roles and Responsibilities

The successful implementation of an NSSE plan requires the participation and coordination of a variety of partner agencies at the federal, state, and local levels.  While each NSSE is unique, statutory requirements dictate the roles and responsibilities that various agencies have in the planning and execution of events.  While the USSS has the primary responsibility of leading the planning and operations of NSSEs, other organizations including DOTs, DPWs, transit agencies, local governments, emergency management agencies (EMAs), local law enforcement, and local fire/EMS each play a role.  Successful implementations will ensure adequate representation of each agency and agreement with the final plan, and that any conflicts or issues are resolved prior to implementation.


With the passing of the Presidential Protection Act of 2000 into public law, the amendment to Title 18, USC § 3056 codified PDD-62.  This placed into federal law the roles and responsibilities of the USSS to participate “in the planning, coordination and implementation of security operations at special events of national significance.”[20]  In a January 2005 press release for the 55th Presidential Inauguration, USSS Director W. Ralph Basham stated that it was their goal not only to ensure the security of each event site, but also to create a safe and secure environment for all participants, visitors, and area residents.  The goal is to provide a safe and secure environment for USSS protectees, other dignitaries, event participants, and the general public. 

When the Secretary of the DHS designates an event an NSSE, the USSS assumes its mandated role as the lead agency for the design and implementation of the operational security plan.[21]  The USSS uses a clearly defined and well-developed strategy to carry out its security operations, which require strong partnerships with local public officials.  There is a tremendous amount of advance planning and coordination in preparation for these events, particularly in the areas of venue and motorcade route security, communications, and credentialing.[22]

Potential security measures that the USSS can request from a local jurisdiction for an NSSE include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Road closures
  • Transit system closures
  • Closed-access areas
  • Security screening areas and entry points
  • Air security
  • Water security. 

The role of the USSS Major Events Division is planning and coordination of USSS headquarters and the various field offices.  Coordination includes advance planning and serving as a liaison for venues with other federal, state, and local agencies including DOTs/DPWs and transit agencies for transportation-related needs.

Local Government

While the USSS is the lead federal agency in developing, exercising, and implementing security operations for an NSSE, it does not possess all the resources necessary to carry out the event.  Therefore, it falls to the local jurisdictions hosting the NSSE to support a typically law enforcement event. 

All aspects of local government will support an NSSE from local law enforcement and fire/EMS to the water and sewer agency, public space/parks, and elected officials.  For a local DOT/DPW, this involvement can include alternative transportation plan development, sidewalk garbage can removal, signal removal, roadway restriping, multiple street closures, partial or complete highway/freeway closures, ramp or overpass closures, debris removal, and expedited or closed construction projects.  The requests follow the criteria for designation of an NSSE; the attendance of officials and dignitaries, the size, and the significance of the event determine the requests. 

Local governments may also coordinate with the private sector for some resources and assistance.  For example, for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Seattle, the city formed a local host committee as a liaison for the NSSE with the business community.


Leading up to the 55th Presidential Inauguration in January 2005, the USSS and the Washington, DC, Department of Transportation (DDOT) became involved in negotiations surrounding the Celebration of Freedom—an event that takes place on the Ellipse, located in the heart of downtown DC, on the night before every inauguration.  The USSS stated a need to close the streets for two city blocks around the Ellipse for 2 days prior to the event to establish security perimeters and set up security screening equipment.  The Director of DDOT insisted that these closures were an unreasonable request and placed an undue burden on the citizens and workers who use these roadways during heavy rush-hour periods in the downtown area.  The challenge for the USSS and DDOT was one of security versus practicality.  While the 55th Presidential Inauguration was not the first NSSE post-September 11th, it was the first inauguration, and therefore security concerns surrounding this event were at their highest.  When negotiations reached a standstill, the DC Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPDC’s) Special Operations Division, responsible for developing MPDC’s plan alongside the USSS and DDOT, joined together with DDOT in an appeal to DC Congresswoman Norton for support.  Subsequent negotiations resulted in a compromise that worked for both agencies and reduced the effect on businesses and the community as this event approached. 

While the need to call upon a representative of Congress for support in negotiations is an extreme example of the challenges that a jurisdiction can face when dealing with such a high-profile and high-security event, this is not the norm.  This example demonstrates that local jurisdictions have the ability to negotiate with the USSS in advance of an event to develop plans satisfying both the security needs for the event and what is reasonable for the local jurisdiction.  As is the case for any planned special event, the likelihood of resolving challenges increases with advance planning. 

The roles and responsibilities for a local DOT/DPW are subject to factors surrounding the nature of the event.  Whether the NSSE is an indoor event, as are the State of the Union Address and the Group of Eight (G-8) Summit, or an outdoor event, as is the case for a majority of Presidential Inaugurations and some major sporting events with an NSSE designation, transportation and infrastructure considerations play a vital role and require serious attention.  While the USSS will provide information concerning the venue(s) and scope of the event, the local DOT/DPW will be responsible for providing liaison personnel, coordinating and providing resources, developing a comprehensive transportation plan, and helping disseminate the appropriate information to the public when authorized. 

Since the lead times for NSSE events vary, the number of committees and sub-committees necessary to develop a comprehensive plan will vary as well.  Both internal government agencies and external partners such as the USSS or a neighboring jurisdiction that the event may have an impact on or that may support the event can ask the DOT/DPW to attend multiple committees.  For the 2005 Presidential Inauguration, transportation committee memberships included, but were not limited to, the following:

  • Transportation (DDOT Transportations Operation Division Special Events, including Parking, Work Zone Public Safety, Traffic Management Center, and Roadway Operations Patrol; the DDOT Infrastructure Project Management Administration, Ward Representative; and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority)
  • Public Works
  • Public Space
  • Law Enforcement (MPDC Special Operations, USSS, US Capital Police, US Park Police)
  • Fire/EMS (DC Fire and EMS Special Operations)
  • Emergency Management (DC Emergency Management Agency, now Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency)
  • DC Inaugural Committee
  • Armed Forces Inaugural Committee
  • USSS Inaugural Committee
  • Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
  • Parking. 

Each NSSE will have its own committee demands and requirements.  It is the responsibility of the local jurisdiction’s DOT/DPW to evaluate the level of support needed for the NSSE.  This evaluation can include the need to establish internal DOT/DPW committees or working groups, establish intergovernmental committees to allow information to flow both horizontally and vertically throughout the local jurisdiction, and conduct outreach to neighboring jurisdictions.  In the case of the 2005 Presidential Inauguration, an internal DDOT Parking Committee was necessary due to the logistics and security needs surrounding the event.  The issue of parking alone was a large enough part of transportation planning that it required its own time and focus.  By working closely with its committee members to understand the priorities of the event and the needs of support agencies, visitors, and VIPs, DDOT was able to maximize available parking in support of a heavy security environment. 

In addition to the various committees on which DOT/DPW staff will participate, these agencies will also require representation at what can be multiple operations centers.  This can include operations centers for the local EMA, neighboring jurisdictions, USSS, military, local police, and DOT TMCs, both inside and outside the host jurisdiction. 

As an example, for the 2008 DNC in Denver, CO, the planning process included the development of a MACC.  The USSS and many state and local agencies participated in the development and staffing of the MACC.  The center linked with two of the region’s TMCs, the City of Denver’s TMC and CDOT’s TMC, and 20 additional command centers located throughout the region.  Although the majority of transportation staff involved in the event were located in the Denver TMC, CDOT provided additional support to the MACC. 

DOT/DPW personnel who staff these operations centers should have the authority and ability to make critical decisions and allocate resources at a moment’s notice.  These staff members can also relay event information, if appropriate, back to their DOT/DPW personnel to help in the effective mitigation of any transportation-related issues.  Some operations centers will require special access and a USSS background investigation, as discussed in detail later in this document. 

One important responsibility for any DOT/DPW supporting an NSSE is the record-keeping process.  While some NSSEs involve a single venue, others can have multiple venues, and the USSS can assign a special agent to be in charge of each location.  Regardless of scope, recording contacts, meeting notes, and planning agreements can be an important part of the process.  In addition, the tracking of resources used to support the NSSE also helps in documenting costs.  After-action reports and lessons learned reports post-event will not only provide insights for future events but can also be used to educate and improve how (the transportation component of) NSSEs are conducted throughout the transportation community.  The responsibility is on the local DOT/DPW to keep track of this information.  It is important that those assigned to support the NSSE establish a dedicated tracking process to capture hours worked and the work conducted during those hours.  If costs are submitted for reimbursement, the federal government can request an accounting of specific costs. 

Emergency Management Agency

The mission of most local EMAs is to manage the jurisdiction’s emergency operations to prevent, protect, respond to, and recover from natural and man-made emergencies.  EMAs accomplish this by developing plans and procedures, coordinating resources, providing training, conducting exercises, and coordinating special events.  The level of activity for an EMA within a jurisdiction can vary since some jurisdictions have standalone operations for emergency management, while others have dedicated operations housed within the fire or police departments.  In Seattle, Washington, and Washington, DC, the role of the EMA, as it pertains to pre-planned special events and NSSEs, is that of overall coordinator and facilitator of local resources.

The EMA serves as host of a standing committee with representatives from all parts of the local government.  In some communities, this committee works as a team to review and approve special event requests.  For an NSSE, the local EMA serves as a facilitator and provides outside jurisdictions with access to the representatives as needed.  The EMA does not have jurisdiction over the resources of (other) local government agencies but serves as a conduit for those agencies to allocate resources required to fill gaps identified throughout the planning process as well as during the NSSE.  An example of resources needed may be as simple as requesting additional meals ready to eat for field operations personnel.  An active EMA will be involved in every committee and will receive invitations to all major planning and coordination meetings.  This access provides an opportunity to share information with all other local agency partners through regular internal coordination meetings.  Additionally, the EMA can relay any concerns and elevate issues to the appropriate level of government.  The EMA will work as a partner with the DOT/DPW to support their planning efforts. 

Since communications is such an integral part of overall operations, the EMA can be the POC for providing secure handheld radio networks.  These networks are necessary due to the nature of the event and may be required for use by the DOT/DPW.  Communication networks can be open to law enforcement, other city services, and the USSS.  Other federal departments and agencies including the FBI and DHS can also monitor the channels.  Training may be necessary on the etiquette and handling of secure communication devices that the EMA provides.  The EMA may also provide additional training for DOT/DPW personnel such as training on the NIMS, the NRF, and the ICS, as well as any local emergency and contingency plans and procedures.

Local Law Enforcement

The primary role of law enforcement during an NSSE is to support the USSS in implementing security operations.  In some cases, law enforcement from surrounding jurisdictions and across the country can be called in to support these operations.  While the USSS has the primary role of planning and coordination, at the local level, law enforcement will allocate and assign resources as appropriate to support the mission.  As with many of their local governmental counterparts, law enforcement will staff operations centers as well as participate in and chair various committees.  In jurisdictions where the law enforcement hierarchy houses the emergency management role, the role of law enforcement will expand to take more of a lead in coordinating internal information and meetings with local government agencies.  Additionally, some jurisdictions will have a dedicated planning staff for special event planning, while others may just assign personnel as needed.  The level of resources and experience can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. 

For the 2008 DNC, the City of Denver formed a safety and security committee that consisted of the police force, fire department, EMA, and other public safety agencies.  In addition, the USSS formed an unofficial executive steering committee and worked with state and local agencies to form 18 planning subcommittees, on which the USSS and Denver Police were co-leads.  For example, the USSS and Denver Police worked together to develop a joint crowd management plan.  Committees and subcommittees for the event met monthly or weekly for a year leading up to the event. 

Where DOT/DPW is concerned, law enforcement is an important part of the planning and operations process.  Law enforcement’s role in support of DOT/DPW planning revolves around resources and the overall security requirements of the event.  Street closures for an NSSE will require a law enforcement presence even where barricades are present.  Therefore, the desired closures by DOT/DPW for the best possible routing of vehicles and pedestrians may be restricted in their travel by the amount of resources that law enforcement can provide.  It is important to make decisions concerning placement of media, spectators, protestors, resources to support the event, street closures, and barricades through close coordination of law enforcement and the DOT/DPW.  For example, during the transportation and detour planning process for the 2009 G-20 Summit, law enforcement personnel were involved in the planning and operation of detours.  The Pennsylvania State Police played a primary role in organizing road closures on the Interstate highway system, while the Pittsburgh Police Bureau was involved with street closures in downtown Pittsburgh.

Local Fire/EMS

An often overlooked resource with a major coordinating role with the DOT/DPW is Fire/EMS.  While the roles and responsibilities of Fire/EMS primarily concern life safety, some local governments will maintain the emergency management functions within the fire department.  With this added responsibility, Fire/EMS will have to expand their role as they lead the overall coordination of internal information and meetings with local government agencies.  Fire/EMS will also staff operations centers as well as participate on and chair various committees. 

One of the main concerns for Fire/EMS is emergency routing and access to hospital facilities in the event of an emergency, regardless of scale.  The role of Fire/EMS is to use their expertise to work together with the DOT/DPW to incorporate routing plans into traffic management plans.  These routes also need to be coordinated with local law enforcement and USSS committees and coordination officials.  Additional concerns that Fire/EMS may have that will affect DOT/DPW include the need to reach multiple hospitals if an incident occurs that results in multiple casualties, available exit points if an NSSE has a secured route or perimeter, and staging areas for resources and field medical units.  For the G-20 Summit, the Pittsburgh Fire Bureau and the EMS were involved with the Transportation Committee and participated in the discussion of closures, because of the possible effect of closures and limited access on service.  Fortunately, two fire stations are located on opposite sides of the city and convention center, so the closures were not a significant factor.

Boston was the site for the 2004 DNC in November 2002, which was approved as an NSSE in May 2003.  Preparations for the 2004 DNC including forming a steering committee and 17 subcommittees.  Boston’s EMS led a Medical Subgroup, formed under the Consequence Management Committee.  The Subgroup included 39 federal, state, and local organizations and met monthly from December 2003 through April 2004 and then twice monthly up to the event at the end of July 2004.

[5] National Strategy for Homeland Security, Office of Homeland Security.  2002.

[6] Fact Sheet: National Special Security Events.  2006.  Department of Homeland Security website.

[7] Conners, Edward.  Planning and Managing Security for Major Special Event:  Guidelines for Law Enforcement.  U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.  March, 2007.

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] National Response Framework Emergency Support Function Annexes.  pp. 1.  DHS/FEMA website.

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] Reese, Shawn(2007).  National Special Security Events.  CRS Report for Congress; pp. 1.

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid

[20] USSS National Special Security Events.  USSS website.

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid

May 2011
Publication #FHWA-HOP-11-012