The planning behind Obama’s visit to Kent State


Student volunteers gathered in the M.A.C. Center the night before President Obama’s September 26 speech. The volunteers were instructed on their duties for that day, where they would be seating guides and chaperones throughout the M.A.C. Center. Photo by Grace Jelinek.

A.J. Atkinson

Many have seen the president of the United States speak on television, but few know what happens behind the scene to ensure the president’s safety.

Lt. Jim Prusha from the Kent City Police Department said he was shocked by the Secret Service’s extensive planning and thorough evaluation of every little detail that many departments would overlook.

John Peach, Chief of Police of the Kent State University Police Department, said the Obama Political Action Committee was on the Kent State campus as early as September 9 looking for the best place for Obama to give a speech. Peach said the committee wanted to find a place that would provide a high visibility and a high media approach. The Secret Service wanted a very safe, secret approach.

The committee’s first choice was Manchester Field, the green between the Centennial Halls, Eastway and the Student Center.

“The day [the committee was] here was the Black Squirrel Festival, so they saw how it was set up and saw how it could work. So it was easy to recognize it was the perfect outdoor location for them,” Tom Euclide, associate vice president of facilities planning and operations, said.

However, when Peach walked the layout and perimeter of Manchester Field with the Secret Service, it was an easy decision for both to rule it out.

“By the time myself and the Secret Service walked it off, we’d have to have every law enforcement officer north of Columbus working,” Peach laughed. “You have to think about the fact that anywhere there’s a window, there’s a threat. If you stand in Manchester Field, all you look around is windows. We’re talking about [a window] a half-mile to a mile away [is] a threat. It became evident that was not the best place.”

Euclide said when the weather forecast predicted rain the day of President Obama’s speech, the M.A.C. Center became an obvious choice.

The M.A.C. Center provided benefits for both sides. Because it was an enclosed space, security could more easily identify who was in the crowd and remove any threats. Planning the layout of the event was also easier for Euclide, who said setting up was very similar to setting up for a basketball game.

With a venue selected, Secret Services then met with Euclide and his staff learning everything about the M.A.C. Center and what equipment they could bring in.

“They did all the coordination with the lighting systems and brought in a generator to hook those up to so it wouldn’t be taxing to our system,” Euclide said. “They hooked into our sound system, but we have a pretty good sound system in there, anyway. It was pretty simple.”

Contact A.J. Atkinson at [email protected].