GRAND RAPIDS — The amount of planning involved and the number of personnel who participated in last week’s tribute to former President Gerald R. Ford was far greater than any recent local event for a sitting or past president, presidential or vice-presidential candidate, foreign dignitary or world-renowned celebrity.
In fact, City Manager Kurt Kimball said the last time so much effort and so many people were involved in a citywide event also included the 38th president. It was back in 1981 when Mr. Ford opened the doors to his presidential museum on Pearl Street at Front Avenue.
“We’re not without some considerable experience when it comes to providing security and ensuring that our city is safe and everything is handled well in those kinds of events. But suffice it to say that this event is bigger than most any of those,” he said.
“The only thing that rivals this, I believe — and certainly not in terms of numbers, but in terms of significance of visiting dignitaries — would be the opening of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.”
Prior to the arrival of Mr. Ford’s casket at the museum last Tuesday, Kimball wasn’t sure of the exact manpower hours that would be expended on security and traffic control for the motorcades, public viewing, and private funeral and interment. Nor was he sure of the cost the city would incur for providing those services. He said those totals would come to his desk a few days after the events were done.
But Kimball was clearly certain that the manpower effort would be momentous and the money would be rightfully spent, whatever the final tally of both might be.
“We have no prepared budget for an event of this magnitude,” he said.
Kimball said the city didn’t expect as many dignitaries to arrive here last week as came when the presidential museum opened due to the events that were held days earlier in the nation’s capital. Still, he thought plenty of people from near and far would come to the city to pay their respects to Mr. Ford, even if their stay was only for a few hours, and he said the city was ready regardless of how many people showed up to do just that.
“We were anticipating the eventual need to do this, as planning has been in the works for years and years. I personally have been privy to the planning for the last several years. So the playbook, if you will, for how to manage what we anticipated was drafted long, long ago.
“I can tell you that we prepared for this like we have never prepared in the past. We’re not concerning ourselves with the budget. We’re working to make sure that this series of events occurring in Grand Rapids will be managed better than any other place could possibly dream of preparing for this,” said Kimball last week.
And the preparations led to a two-day tribute that came off without a hitch, as initial reports indicated approximately 57,000 people visited the casket in repose at the museum without any indication of any problem arising.
The planning involved many of the city’s departments. As expected, police and fire contributed greatly under a single command model to the logistics, staging, intelligence, security and emergency management of last week’s events. But other departments were involved, too, including a handful that might not immediately come to mind, such as Parking Services, Public Works, Parks and Recreation, and Information Technology.
For instance, under the direction of Tom McQuillan, IT set up the command center that oversaw the necessary activities and provided the event mapping and the camera surveillance needed at those locations.
Kimball said Assistant City Manager Jose Reyna served as his point person throughout the planning process, one that required a lot of coordination and cooperation from a lot of local, state and federal agencies.
“We did not do this exclusively by ourselves. I’m including in that law enforcement professionals from area cities, from the county sheriff’s office, and the Michigan State Police. We were aided a lot by other players and public servants,” said Kimball.
The military police and Secret Service also played a role in the process.
“The United States Army Military District of Washington really had the lead for all of the details associated with the funeral events themselves.”
The Fords requested the events that were held here last week. The family preferred to keep the public visitation, funeral and interment free of the pomp and circumstance that have underscored some other presidential tributes. And even though politics weren’t part of those events, the potential for an unsavory political protest at a most unfortunate time was included in the planning process.
“We’d be derelict of duty if we didn’t plan for some amount of protest and demonstration,” said Kimball. “But I have every confidence that the vast majority of persons who were coming to pay respects to the memory of President Ford will be well-behaved.”