Washington, DC, Prepares for Inauguration Day

By Matthew Harwood

Washington, DC - Federal and city officials tasked with protecting President-elect Barack Obama's Inauguration Day celebrations outlined their security strategy today as the nation's capital prepares for an unprecedented mass gathering.

"We do not have the entire picture today," said Malcolm Wiley, Jr., a spokesman for the Secret Service and chair of the Public Affairs Subcommittee of the Presidential  Inauguration Committee. He added, "the entire plan is not completed yet."

The briefing, held for print and broadcast media at the Secret Service's Washington field office, included representatives from the Presidential Inauguration Committee, the National Park Service (NPS), the U.S. Capitol Police, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and district agencies including the Metropolitan Police Department and Department of Transportation.

Attendance Jan. 20 is expected to exceed that of all previous inaugurations, clogging all roadways and mass transit networks into the city. Some have estimated as many as 4 million may push their way into the District, although Wiley said the number is wildly off the mark.

In anticipation of large crowds, 8,000 police officers will patrol the city—1,000 more than on any other Inauguration Day, said Metropolitan Police Inspector Steven Sund. Half of those officers will come from his agency's ranks, with the remainder from 96 other police departments around the country.

In addition, federal resources including uniformed personnel will protect the parade route, the Mall, and the Capitol. According to Sgt. Robert LaChance of the U.S. Park Police, 25 law enforcement agencies will help the park police patrol the necessary areas.

The inauguration has been classified as a National Special Security Event, which means the Secret Service—responsible for the event's operational security—can pull resources from wherever it needs to do the job, including the U.S. military.

"We will have enough people to secure the area," Wiley assured reporters.

Logistics, however, pose a nightmare for the myriad agencies helping to plan and protect the event.

Although the Mall will not be closed on the eve of the inauguration, both LaChance and Bill Line of NPS asked people to use "common sense" and to restrain themselves from occupying the Mall before 4 a.m., when Metro, the National Capitol Region's mass transit system, is scheduled to begin service.

If they can help it, Line asked people coming to the Mall to bring nothing but themselves, although chairs, strollers, and other reasonable items are allowed. "Less is more," he said. (For a list of prohibited items, visit the Secret Service's Inauguration Web site here.)

Prohibited item restrictions will be harsher along the parade route and the Capitol, which will be a ticketed area. No one will be able to get anywhere near the parade route until 7a.m. at the earliest, Wiley said.

The Secret Service has already visited building owners along the parade route, explaining the security protocols expected of them as the new president rolls down Pennsylvania Ave. toward the White House. "Break-out areas," or closed streets, will also be established for people to flee if disaster does indeed strike, Wiley said.

Inauguration spectators should expect varying degrees of security screening depending on whether they are at the Capitol, on the Mall, or along the parade route, said LaChance. People should expect K-9 teams, magnetometers, and a host of other security technologies, even though the inauguration committee hasn't "determined what exactly the screening processes will be," said Wiley.

Security on Metro poses concerns as well.

The city's bus and rail system expects "crush-load conditions," said Metro's director of public relations, Lisa Farbstein. Metro's railway can carry about 120,000 people an hour. The most trips it has ever handled was 850,000 in a single day was July of this year. Farbstein expects to break that number on Inauguration Day.

Anyone who lives within two miles of the festivities should walk if they can, Farbstein added.

Other security measures mentioned during the event include the district's development of mass notification plans for Inauguration Day, while the District of Columbia Fire Department is drawing up mass evacuation plans for use in the event of a major emergency.


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