Feature Stories Campus Events

Mock Con 2020’s Security Overhaul Two W&L students dramatically upgraded security preparations for the biggest Mock Con yet.

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“I love working events like this. It’s all about making experiences for people.”

~ Donald LeCompte ’21, Mock Con 2020 Logistics Chair

Someone needed to keep Mock Con safe. When the convention began, over 2,000 attendees filed into the Duchossois Tennis Center to watch nationally known speakers including Trevor Noah and Donna Brazile take the podium. The venue, hosting Mock Con for the first time, had to be made secure for much larger crowds than it was originally designed to accommodate. On top of that, the national political environment gave security preparations a harder edge than in the past.

In keeping with its tradition of student leadership, Mock Con 2020 found two students, Donald LeCompte ’21 and Jim Barton ’20, to tighten and professionalize its security preparations. Together they led a years-long effort to train and organize the security team, ensure the tennis center met fire code, coordinate with speakers and plan for worst-case scenarios.

LeCompte, a business administration major and mass communications minor hired as Mock Con’s logistics chair, brought years of experience to his role. He took a gap year before attending W&L to serve as president of DECA, a 75-year-old high school leadership organization with 225,000 members nationwide. That job, for which he organized student leadership conferences, turned into an ongoing position with an event contractor. He now helps run conventions around the country during university breaks. For Mock Con, he was in charge of everything from accommodations to event layout.

“I love working events like this,” he said. “It’s all about making experiences for people.”

Barton, a European history major who intends to serve in the armed forces after graduation, has worked on physical security teams in North Africa and other locations, at one point guarding a warehouse filled with millions of dollars’ worth of machine guns. “Before I even applied for the position,” he said, “I had a 50 to 60-page action plan dealing with everything from drunk students to bomb threats and active shooters.”

LeCompte and Barton formed an effective team, understanding that security needed to be considered at all stages of planning. “Diagrams and layouts for space might not seem like they relate to security,” LeCompte said. “But they absolutely do, so tying those into a conversation, making sure everyone’s on the same page, is crucial.”

Barton brought his initial action plan to personal contacts in the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, asking for help analyzing threats and planning the response to them. “We talked about everything from who needs to be here and what do they need to be watching for to where are we going to land medevac helicopters if we can’t get ambulances in,” he said.

Planning for worst-case scenarios could feel a bit grim, but Barton and LeCompte felt it was necessary given the stature of Mock Con’s speakers. “We were planning for senior political leaders to be here,” explained LeCompte, “planning for the worst in terms of the agencies that might come with them.”

That required a level of seriousness rarely necessary for campus events, so Barton overhauled security, redefining his role and expanding his team until it was Mock Con’s largest. “We had four medical specialists,” he said, including EMTs and students with certifications in trauma first aid. He brought on 12 other students as physical security guards, as well as a physical security team leader to serve as his deputy.

Support from W&L staff and state and local law enforcement agencies, who formed an active part of the security presence, provided a welcome buttress. W&L Director of Public Safety Ethan Kipnes remembers Barton approaching him even before Mock Con hired him. “He was already so dedicated,” he said. “The entire Mock Con student organization should be proud of the tremendous event they put together, and the legacy they have left for future Mock Conventions.”

For LeCompte, collaborating with Public Safety offered valuable opportunities to learn. “We’d go and spend hours a week in their office,” he said. “We’d say, ‘This is what we want to happen. And this is how we’re going to make it happen.’ And they were there to say, ‘We’ve got experience in this, so consider this and this.’”

Barton, who led the security team on the ground, was thrilled with how the weekend went. “We were able to get everyone in that was supposed to be there as well as keep anyone out that wasn’t,” he said. “Working with Lexington PD and the Sheriff’s Office was easy and enjoyable.”

The team intends to leave a detailed blueprint for future conventions to follow. After holding in-person meetings with the Lexington Police Department and Rockbridge County fire services, Barton designated points of contact with those agencies and reached out to the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office as well. For him, positive feedback from professionals has been one of the most satisfying parts of planning security.

“I want to get them as tightly knit with Public Safety and ourselves as possible,” he said, “so they’ll be expecting the security team to reach out.” LeCompte added that the team has kept “everything we work on, every document, every note from every meeting, and those things are all going to be passed down.”

Every four years, Mock Con provides W&L students with an incredible opportunity to tackle real-world problems. Mock Con 2020 featured the most robust security preparations yet. But, as Barton noted, “Times are changing.” With the high-profile speakers Mock Con brings in, “There really are threats that could emerge.” And Mock Con’s next security team will be challenged to raise the bar again.