For today’s COVID-19 Report, PERF interviewed federal and local officials who have various roles in ensuring the security of COVID vaccine transportation and distribution systems.


Marty Hunt, Chief, Strategic National Stockpile Security Operations Unit, Tactical Operations Division, U.S. Marshals Service

Chuck Wexler:  Chief Hunt, you are providing security for COVID-19 vaccines, from the facilities where they are manufactured to distribution sites. What does that look like?

Chief Hunt:  Most people, when they think of the U.S. Marshals Service, think of fugitive hunting, security for the judiciary, moving prisoners, etc. But here’s a little bit of history about my program. It’s Strategic National Stockpile Security Operations.  I’m the chief of that program, and I’m stationed in Atlanta.

This program was built right after 9/11.  During 9/11, we could not get medical countermeasures into New York City, because the NYPD and the Port Authority had closed down the bridges and tunnels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention felt it was very important to have a federal nexus, some entity that could talk “badge to badge” to clear the path for the countermeasures. So they came to the Marshals Service, and we started this program in 2002. I’ve been with it since 2007.

I’ve got 13 offices nationwide from the East Coast out to Hawaii. We cover all the states. Our mission statement is basically to ensure that there’s a nationwide framework for the secure delivery, receipt, and distribution of the medical countermeasures. That’s during a man-made event, a terrorist attack of some sort, and also natural events. So we respond to hurricanes, and we also assign people to the National Special Security Events, the NSSEs.  

There are 4 pillars of the program. The first pillar is about protection of the product. We make sure that we clear the path from A to B to make sure that that product, whatever it is, gets to the jurisdiction so that they can receive it and dispense it to people within your areas. The second pillar of the program is the protection of personnel – for example, if there are senior-level personnel traveling to an area that has been impacted.  The third pillar is intelligence, and the last is liaison to state and local agencies.

In terms of how we’re working with Operation Warp Speed (OWS), they asked us to help secure the movement of the vaccines around the country.  That starts with the manufacturers of what is called “drug substance”  – concentrate, precursors, antigens, etc., which must be secure as they leave the manufacturer. That’s the important stuff; you can’t make vaccines without it.

So we provide our escorts and security from the manufacturers out of what are called “fill finish” sites, where they actually make the vaccines. It’s bottled, it’s labeled, it’s put with the ancillary kits, which are your masks and gloves, needles, etc.  Then It’s boxed up and sent to the distribution storage sites to be held until they get enough product. And then we push it to the FedEx and UPS hubs. You’ve probably seen that FedEx is taking everything west in the country, and UPS has everything in the East.

Once we deliver it to the FedEx and UPS hubs, and it goes wheels up, that is the end of our mission. The planes will land in every state, and that’s where the states exercise their receiving and distribution plans, pick it up with security, and make sure it gets to where it’s going to be.

Wexler: This sounds like a really challenging effort that you’ve got the whole country to cover. How long have you been planning for this?

Chief Hunt:  We’ve been working with Operation Warp Speed (OWS) for about the last four months.

Chief Bill Brooks, Norwood (MA) Police Department

Wexler: Bill, Moderna has a manufacturing plant in Norwood. Tell us about that.

Chief Brooks:   We’ve been in close contact with Moderna corporate security. We talk to them several times a week about general security issues.  We have a presence on their site 12 hours a day, every day. We know that the Marshals are escorting shipments.  Of course we’re very closely watching the intelligence, and fortunately, so far there haven’t been any threats. We’ve had a few people show up and ask, “Is this where I can get the vaccine?” One of the things we talked about early on was taking down a Moderna sign by the main road to reduce the number of people randomly showing up at the plant.

Wexler:   The FDA is supposed to make a decision later this week on the Moderna vaccine, so you could conceivably have that vaccine starting to get shipped out very soon. Is that correct?

Chief Brooks:  Yes, the emergency use authorization is before the advisory committee, and if it happens as quickly as it did with the Pfizer vaccine, it could happen soon. It’s my understanding that some parts of this are being pre-staged, so material could be ready to be distributed as soon as the authorization is approved. [Note: the Moderna vaccine was approved by the FDA advisory committee on Thursday, soon after this interview was conducted.]

Josh Ball, Director of Public Safety, Louisville Regional Airport Authority

Wexler:  Director Ball, Louisville is home to UPS Worldport, the largest automated package handling facility in the world. How are you providing security for the vaccine at this airport?

Chief Ball:  This is quite a moment to be a witness to history. As you said, UPS is one of the largest transport facilities in the world, so we’re used to high volumes of air traffic, especially at this holiday time of the year. This week we’re up to about 600 cargo flight a day.

Our strategy on securing UPS really begins with some in-depth relationships that go back years.  There’s rarely more than a couple of days that go by without constant coordination with their corporate security team, whether it’s about threats or problem employees or prohibited items or other issues.

And at times you have people who try to cause disruption. This year we’ve had an up-tempo on all of our proactive patrols. We have to keep the perimeter of the airport secure, so that air traffic cannot be disrupted. Someone jumping a fence and walking onto a runway could shut down operations for an hour. We have about 14 miles of pavement area that we have to keep secure, and we’re constantly looking for any threats or disruptions. We work with our state fusion center, state police, Louisville Metro Police, and federal marshals on deterrence and disruption of any threats. We’re looking for any threats, any suspicious behavior, any odd behavior that doesn’t fit in.

One thing that we’ve seen over the years is that when there’s any valuable cargo, there’s going to be someone who would like to get it.  So we’re always looking out for someone who may be trying to stage and wait for a truck to pull out, for example. Just with the volume that we experience, it’s always a risk. But for some perspective, last year UPS sent out 61 million vaccines for the regular flu, without really any issues. The extra-cold storage requirement for the COVID vaccines does add some logistical issues, and there’s a lot more demand than supply. So there could be groups trying to procure the vaccine, or anti-vaxxers attempting to disrupt distribution. 

Assistant Chief Bryan Cox, Chandler, AZ Police Department

Wexler:  Bryan, you’re assisting Chandler-Gilbert Community College, which will serve as a distribution site when the vaccine arrives. The site will accommodate 36,000 vaccinations over the course of 10 days. Can you tell us about that?

Assistant Chief Cox:  Maricopa County is a pretty widespread county with a population of 4.5 million. We’re one of five Point-of-Dispensing (POD) sites in the county.  I received a text just a few minutes ago from my commander, saying that the vaccine has been dropped at the hospital. Dignity Health is one of the hospitals that has accepted the vaccine, and they’re going to be doing the dispensing of the vaccine at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

Leading up to this in the planning phase, we worked with the state, with the county Health Department, with Dignity Health, and our local partners in the Fire Department on a plan for how we’re going to handle it.

As in other locations, our Phase 1a population is pretty exclusive. It’s the hospitals with the designated personnel, and it’s long-term care residents and staff, and it’s our medical transport personnel. Public safety sits in the 1b phase, which is projected to start sometime in January.

Our mission is the safety and security of the personnel, of course, and the vaccine and the equipment. So we’re providing 24-hour security at the hospital for 30 days. And then there will be a 21-day period before the second dose is provided, and we have a plan in place for that.

Chief David Mitchell, University of Maryland Police Department

Wexler:  Dave, I’m reading that the University of Maryland Medical Center received 975 vaccine doses on Monday, and five health care workers received a vaccine on Tuesday. Are you ready for your officers to get the vaccine?

Chief Mitchell:   I was just on a call with the Maryland State Police (MSP), and they’re really doing a fantastic job. Depending on the manufacturer of the vaccine, the window of opportunity for vaccination after the vaccines arrive can be very narrow. If it requires 70 degrees below zero, that’s a problem in a lot of places.

MSP is putting together a plan where they can vaccinate local police along with troopers in different parts of the state. They would have their medics do the vaccination for law enforcement people. Another option is to partner with state and mostly local health departments and distribute statewide that way. The vaccine came to the University of Maryland in Baltimore, and health care workers are receiving that now. So we’re looking at having an opportunity within the next couple of weeks.

Within the University of Maryland-College Park, I’ve got 104 authorized positions. A couple employees are on the fence, but everyone else is ready to roll up their sleeves and get the vaccine.  The only caveat is that although the side effects are said to be minimal, they’re enough that you could be sick enough to not work the street the next day.  So we would stagger squads and appointments accordingly, and if there is a side effect, it’s no big deal.


The PERF Daily COVID-19 Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting PERF’s COVID-19 work.