Contact CU Independent General Assignment Editor Andrew Haubner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University of Colorado has played host to presidents, rock bands, politicians of every stripe and holy leaders. It regularly hosts Division-I football games and brings in distinguished speakers like Neil deGrasse Tyson. On Oct. 28th, it will house a GOP debate, hosted by CNBC, and this event might just be bigger than all of them.
“When you look at national and international media opportunities, it certainly has to be one of the top events we’ve had here,” said Ryan Huff, chief spokesman of CU-Boulder. “It ranks up there with a presidential visit.”
Planning for the debate began months ago, and has been a collaborative effort between the University, CNBC and the GOP. Meetings have been going on for months, and the logistics were finalized Monday afternoon.
“We all have the same goal of wanting to have a good civil dialogue at this debate,” Huff said. “As far as parking, we are working collaboratively with them. Obviously, our parking is a little more limited than the Pepsi Center, but we are working with them to come up with some good solutions.”
The event has led to a couple notable day-to-day changes at the university, the biggest being the closure of Regent Drive from Oct. 27 to Oct. 29. But the biggest piece of planning this debate has been how to answer one central question: How do you hold an event of this magnitude while maintaining a normal schedule at Colorado’s biggest university?
“That’s one of the challenges,” Huff said. “We want the classes and the research and the business operations of the University to continue even while we have a large event like this.”
The key is getting out in front of potential issues — emailing students, professors, even athletic coaches far in advance about a possible disruption so that no one is surprised if something happens. Perhaps the biggest impacted area will be the Coors Events Center, the proverbial nerve center of the debate. The center’s upper gym will be the “Spin Room,” holding about 500 journalists, while the main debate stage will be on the floor of the main court.
Athletic teams that use that space, such as the men’s and women’s basketball teams, along with CU volleyball, have had to relocate to the lower gyms and, in some cases, the CU rec center so they can continue to practice. Network satellite trucks will line Regent Drive, while local stations from as far away as Salt Lake City will be stationed on the upper Kittredge parking lot.
To ensure that everything runs normally, the logistics of the debate were compartmentalized, allowing specific groups to take ownership of certain aspects. The Office of Information Technology took on the task of providing technical support for journalists at the event, Broadcast Services worked with local and national TV stations and networks, and the CU Police Department probably had the most daunting task of all: keeping the peace in the midst of all the commotion.
“We have a group called the special events team within the police department, and this is what they are dedicated to do,” said Scott Pribble, CU’s public information officer.
The special events group has been instrumental in planning security for everything from presidential visits to Pac-12 football games. But this isn’t a football game. From the University Memorial Center to the Koelbel Business Field, there will be events happening all over campus, presenting a unique challenge to law enforcement.
“For us, as a police agency, we look at football games and it’s a very focused energy in one spot,” Pribble said. “There’s 30,000 to 40,000 people there, but it’s in one area where in this one it’s spread throughout the campus. We don’t know what to expect as opposed to a football game, where you know what to expect.”
Huff agreed, and said that safety of everyone at the event is priority one.
“It is a big operation and we’re really just ensuring the safety of the candidates and ensuring the safety of people at the other events on campus,” Huff said. “It’s looking at all of those elements and making sure that everyone is safe and that everyone’s First Amendment rights are protected.”
While Wednesday will be unexpected for the security teams, preparedness and collaboration with other law enforcement has helped to alleviate some of the potential stress. Other law enforcement agencies, from local to state, will be on hand to provide extra support as the masses roll into Boulder. These agencies work with CUPD for events that require extra manpower, and the standard operating procedure remains heavily based around the security perimeter, which will surround the Coors Events Center.
Now that they’re within 48 hours of the debate actually happening, not to mention all of the other on-campus events, Huff and Pribble conclude that the university is prepared to handle any and all challenges that they might face on Wednesday.
“We feel like we are prepared,” Pribble said. “We’ve gone through all the contingencies that we can expect and we are prepared as we can be.”