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Campus security top priority as Ole Miss debate details finalized

The original topic of the presidential debate in Oxford was recently switched from domestic policy issues to foreign policy.

So when Barack Obama and John McCain hit the stage at Ole Miss’ Ford Center September 26 for their first head-to-head debate, the line of questioning from moderator Jim Lehrer is likely to include inquires how each man would handle the Russia-Georgia conflict, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, China and various other national security issues.

National security is something Obama and McCain both claim to be better equipped to manage than the other.

Since 1996, safe-guarding the Ole Miss campus has been the domain of Cobra Security, the private security firm that contracts with the university, public school districts and businesses in the Oxford/University area.

Cobra is the primary security provider during athletic and special events on campus. During football weekends, Cobra officers have a vast presence in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the Grove, the Circle and basically anywhere else there are fired-up fans who might require some measure of supervision. Whether the behavior is fueled by jubilation or depression, Cobra, along with University Police, keeps an eye on things.

With the debate coming to town, those responsibilities have been expanded.

Cobra has set up round-the-clock patrols around the various tent stations going up that will serve media and ticket distribution for the debate. The media tent alone has 800 work stations and will be the base of operations for outlets not inside the Ford Center.

“We’re there to help (the University Police Department) and the Secret Service,” Cobra CEO Wayne Mills said. “There are some areas around the tents that are cordoned off and we make sure nobody enters those areas. As time goes by, (the Secret Service) will take over, but we’ll still maintain a presence.”

The Ole Miss football team hosted Samford last weekend and entertains Vanderbilt Saturday. Cobra’s regular security functions at each will remain the same, Mills said.

“We will continue to have the debate areas secured, but we’ll also have our regular game weekend personnel, so we’ll be using more people than we normally do, but that won’t be a problem since we have a large pool of people to draw from.”

The media and ticketing tents have been up since before football season started. Their locations have closed at least one heavily used parking lot, the one adjacent to the Ford Center, that will hold several hundred vehicles. So available parking spaces for fans have dwindled. The season opener went smoothly as far as parking logistics go, said Dr. Andrew Mullins, executive assistant to the chancellor at Ole Miss.

“We’ve had the usual traffic jams before and after games, but that wasn’t because of the debate,” Mullin said. “We usually get complaints in the chancellor’s office, but so far we haven’t had any. We really don’t anticipate any major problems traffic-wise.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .


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