The city manager of Battle Creek, Michigan, had only one week’s notice that President Donald Trump was going to be visiting her city for a December campaign rally.
“It was very long days and evenings and nights in logistical preparation,” Rebecca Fleury said, explaining that all city departments were activated to help. “You have to plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
Wildwood officials will face a similar situation as they prepare for Trump’s “Keep America Great!” rally Jan. 28 at the Wildwoods Convention Center, even with triple the time to get ready.
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On Wednesday, authorities convened in the convention center’s administrative offices to discuss security measures ahead of next Tuesday’s rally featuring Trump and U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd. State Police, Secret Service agents, Coast Guard representatives and Wildwood police were among those seen entering the meeting.
Secret Service agents outside the convention center referred a request for comment to the White House Press Office.
It cost Battle Creek taxpayers $93,000 to host the Trump rally, with 95% of that to pay for fire, police and other city staff, according to a cost analysis released by city officials last week.
In addition, the campaign had a contract with Kellogg Arena, where the rally was held, which racked up $33,000 in costs.
Arena officials have submitted an invoice to the campaign for payment, and city administrators plan to do the same, according to the analysis.
“Our No. 1 objective is to keep visitors and residents safe,” Fleury said. “It is certainly, as we called it many times, a logistical challenge.”
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Campaign officials told the city to be prepared for an influx of 20,000 people for the Dec. 18 rally, she said.
For Battle Creek, which has a population of 52,000, its police force of about 112 sworn officers wasn’t going to be enough, so officials called in mutual aid from the surrounding areas, including State Police and the Sheriff’s Office.
Wildwood police Chief Robert N. Regalbuto declined in an email to discuss security measures prior to Trump’s visit but said he would speak about it afterward.
“For operational security reasons, the Secret Service cannot discuss specifically nor in general terms the means and methods we utilize to carry out our protective responsibilities,” Secret Service spokeswoman Julia McMurray said. “We can say the design and implementation of our security plans are a coordinated effort with our law enforcement partners, public safety representatives and military counterparts to create a safe and secure environment for our protectees.”
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Battle Creek officials had some experience dealing with presidential appearances. George W. Bush visited during his presidency in 2004, and Barack Obama visited during his campaign in 2008, Fleury said. But both went to the municipal ballpark, not the downtown arena.
Calling it a “different logistical exercise,” Fleury said they used the bus system to transport attendees with disabilities to the arena for the Trump rally and the focus for law enforcement was to keep people moving to avoid bottlenecking, “because that raises tensions,” she said.
John Siciliano, executive director and chief financial officer of the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority, said they’re experienced at managing large crowds at the convention center, which hosts the New Jersey State Firemen’s Convention as well as a number of concerts and festivals each year.
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“We are planning and preparing for any contingency for this event,” Siciliano said.
Fleury said she was impressed by the Trump campaign and its ability to set up security checkpoints, including bringing staff from the Transportation Security Administration to the arena. However, she wasn’t prepared for the organized and somewhat aggressive vendors that showed up with early ticketholders.
The arena, which can hold about 8,000 people, was capped at 5,500 due to occupancy requirements from the city’s fire marshal, she said. Once it was filled, the campaign set up large screens for people to watch the rally from outside, which worked well.
The convention center in Wildwood has a 7,400-person capacity, but about 100,000 tickets have been requested — more than for any other rally Trump has held, Van Drew said Sunday.
Even with more people than seats in Battle Creek, only two arrests were made in relation to the rally, Fleury said.
And, since the close of the event, Battle Creek officials have held several “hotwashes,” or debriefings to look at what they did well and what they could improve.
“You have to mobilize yourself to prepare your community. It’s another special event,” Fleury said. “It was like you’ve planned a wedding and it was over and you can go, ‘We can breathe.’”
Staff Writer Colt Shaw contributed to this report.