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APEC summit in San Francisco: Secret Service will lead security amid fears of attacks

Homeland Security officers question people on Seventh Street in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood on June 29. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

The U.S. government has declared San Francisco a potential target for a terrorist attack or civil disruption during the high-profile Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November, which means the Secret Service will head up security during the international event as part of a designation rarely used outside of Washington, D.C.

The secretary of Homeland Security in March designated the APEC conference, which runs Nov. 12-18, a “National Special Security Event.” That designation will result in heightened measures by federal authorities, who are taking the lead for all security for the event, which is expected to draw top officials from about 21 countries. The last APEC summit in the U.S. was in 2011 in Hawaii, where federal authorities took similar measures.

“This is a first designation of a National Special Security event in Northern California,” Shawn Bradstreet, special agent in charge of the Secret Service’s San Francisco field office, told The Standard.  

The designation is rare outside of the U.S. capital, where it has been used during inaugurations and presidential addresses to Congress. Outside of Washington, it has been used during political party conventions, NATO meetings and other high-profile events.  

When the declaration was made in the past, such as for the inaugurations of Joe Biden and Donald Trump, several federal agencies took the lead for planning and executing security operations. For example, the Secret Service led the planning and operation of security. Homeland Security, meanwhile, headed up incident management, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency would have been responsible for recovery and clean up in the event of an attack. The FBI was tasked with investigating any incidents that occurred.

Moscone Center West
People walk through Moscone Center in San Francisco in 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

APEC was created in 1989 and convenes regular gatherings largely focused on international trade; member countries are mostly Pacific Rim nations, including the United States, Japan, China, Australia and South Korea. The main APEC event is known as Leaders Week, a gathering of heads of state and other government officials. President Joe Biden will be in attendance. Overlapping with that event is a CEO Summit Nov. 14-16 at Moscone Center West that will attract top executives from major international firms.

“San Francisco is pleased to work with our federal partners to ensure leaders and attendees from APEC member economies feel safe and welcome during the APEC Leaders Meeting in November,” Mayor London Breed’s office said in a statement.

The event’s epicenter will have layers of security, including a zone requiring passes to enter, and another where only pedestrians will be allowed. The restrictions around the Moscone Center could close roads and affect everything from mass transit to flight patterns and boat traffic. 

“It’s like turning that area into a little mini White House,” Bradstreet said. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which will be helping in efforts around security, also laid out its scope of authority in a statement. 

“The FBI’s role is that of crisis management, investigation, and intelligence support for threat prevention,” an FBI spokesperson said. “We will be working with our partners on prevention of any threats, and will be the lead responding agency if something were to happen that was within our scope of responsibility during the event.”

San Francisco police did not respond to requests for comment, but SFPD has sent orders to the rank and file that no vacations will be approved throughout the conference and that every officer will be expected to work 12-hour shifts. 

The total staffing for the event’s security could be anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 officers, federal authorities estimated. The San Francisco Police Department has roughly 1,500 sworn officers currently on staff. 

The security planning for the event has been underway since at least April, when local and federal authorities held a large meeting in Mission Bay. Since then, regular planning meetings have continued, and many details have yet to be finalized, Bradstreet said. 

FBI agents
FBI agents | Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The Secret Service has been tasked with planning everything from protection against potential sea and air attacks from drone and manned aircraft to setting up committees to coordinate local, state and federal authorities.

Security measures could include increased numbers of police and even National Guard personnel, bomb-detecting dogs, surveillance and sharpshooters. Authorities will also take measures to detect and mitigate weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical agents or dirty bombs. 

Flight patterns will be restricted over certain areas of the event, the Coast Guard will step up patrols on the bay, and rail and mass transit will have increased levels of security. Roads will also be closed, disrupting traffic. 

While many one-time Downtown San Francisco office workers have already adopted remote work, Bradstreet said those who continue to commute into the city might find it easier to work from home during the week of APEC.

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at