If You’re Planning a Trip to Washington for the Inauguration, plan to see LOTS of Military.

12/17/2008 10:48:00 PM

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rt_secret_service_obama_081211_mnIn fact, plan on seeing over 11,000 U.S. troops in Washington D.C. for the Inauguration. The Secret Service is in charge of the inauguration security as the inauguration is classified as a National Special Security Event by the secretary of the Dept. of Homeland Security, however, it seems that the Secret Service has tapped military personnel for the event.

The U.S. commander in charge of domestic defense, Air Force General Victor “Gene” E.  Renuart Jr., head of the U.S. Northern Command [in other words, the military command that oversees security for North America], has announced that these troops will provide “air defenses and medical and other support in case of a terrorist attack during the Jan. 20th presidential inauguration.”

Renuart said about 7,500 active duty military and roughly 4,000 National Guard troops will be on hand during the inauguration.  They will include a contingent on alert to respond to a chemical attack.  Others will perform ceremonial roles in parades, reviews, honor guards and so on, Renuart said.

In addition, there will be at least 4,000 local police, 4,000 police from 96 jurisdictions, and security agents from other government agencies.  Inauguration organizers are considering a loudspeaker system to broadcast evacuation instructions in the event of an attack.

Renuart said although the heightened security is “not because we see a specific threat, but because [for] an event this visible and this important and this historic, we ought to be prepared to respond if something does happen.”  Renuart said planners are working under the assumption that a terrorist or rogue element might try to interrupt the inauguration.

It would make news for a terrorist element or rouge element to interrupt that event,” Renuart said. “So, it’s prudent for us to plan for the possibility of that kind of event, and to be prepared either to deter it or to respond to it,” he said.

In addition, the Bush administration is planning to provide the president-elect with a series of contingency plans for potential international emergencies, including terrorist strikes and electronic attacks, that could occur after Obama takes the oath of office.

On the Secret Service web site, one of the interesting security measures for the Inauguration Ceremony is, “There will be an enhanced security presence on the waterways around Washington, D.C.  Information on restrictions will be released at a later date.”

So far, according to FOX News, the Secret Service has formed more than 23 sub-committees, each made up of federal, state and local experts to look at every possible scenario.  Malcolm Wiley, a spokesperson for the Secret Service says, “for instance we have  a subcommittee task with air space, a subcommittee tasked with civil disturbance, with the parade, with the intelligence.”  Wiley has stated the plan covers everything, “We think about it as a 360-degree plan, which means that we want to protect everything around us, everything above us and everything below us.  So, if you think in those terms, we’re thinking about anything that could approach us from any of those directions.”

The Secret Service is even looking at preparing for cyber attacks, according to Malcom Wiley, spokesman for the Secret Service.  “One of the subcommittees that we have is our critical infrastructure group.  They’re tasked with developing plans that monitor and safeguard all computer system – telecommunication systems, electrical systems and other utility services.  Not only does this group work to prevent cyber threats, they’re also poised to immediately respond to anything with a cyber nexus to the inauguration.”


Saturday, January 17th
The weekend before the Jan. 20th inauguration, Obama will travel to Washington by train.  Obama will hold an event Jan. 17 in Philadelphia, site of the first Continental Congress before boarding a train.  Next, he will travel by that train to Wilmington, Delaware, where he will pick up Vice President-elect Joe Biden.  The two will then hold another event in Baltimore before finally proceeding to Washington’s Union Station, that same evening.

In keeping with the theme of the 2009 Inauguration, “Renewing America’s Promise”, the Inaugural Committee explained the events are held in cities “instrumental to that promise:  Philadelphia, where that promise was realized; Baltimore, where that promise was defended, then immortalized in our national anthem; and Washington, where Americans of all backgrounds will gather over four days, united in common purpose and resolved to renew that promise once more.”

Sunday, January 18th
There is a welcome event on Sunday afternoon that is open to the public.

Monday, January 19th – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Obama and Biden, along with their families, will participate in activities dedicated to serving others in communities across the Washington D.C. area.

Tuesday, January 20th – Inauguration Day
On Inauguration Day, since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, the president-elect traditionally attends a morning worship service.  It has not been announced which church Obama is planning on attending for this. 

After this, the president-elect and vice president-elect will proceed to the U.S. Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony; the vice president will be sworn in first.  After taking the oath of office, the newly sworn-in president will deliver his inaugural address.  Following the address, the outgoing president will make his ceremonial departure from Washington on the west front of the U.S. Capitol.

Next the new president will attend the inaugural luncheon in the National Statuary Hall at the Capitol hosted by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC), a tradition that dates as far back as 1897. 

After the luncheon, the new president and his entourage will proceed down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House, where he will review the inaugural parade from the presidential reviewing stand, which dates back to 1789.  Almost 1,400 organizations have applied to participate in the inaugural parade, which will feature bands, military regiments, Boy Scouts, tumblers and representatives from the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps – to name a few.

After the parade, the inaugural schedule will become much more chaotic.  The president, vice president and their wives typically make appearances at a number of inaugural balls, many of which traditionally run well past midnight.  US News and and World Report is reporting that the Illinois State Society Inaugural Gala is expected to have Obama among its attendees, along with the possibility that Obama will attend the Hawaii State Society Inaugural Ball.

Wednesday, January 21st
Obama and Biden will participate in a prayer service.


Security for the train trip will have to be extremely tight.  The train will have to be inspected, railways will have to be inspected, routes monitored on the ground and in the air, including bridges and tunnels; employees working for the railway will go through background checks, and security before boarding the train; and rail stations will have to be searched, bomb sniffing dogs will be around, along with all manner of unseen security measures.  Entire areas will have to be monitored while the president-elect and the vice-president elect are boarding or exiting the train.  An example of where crowd control and security will be heightened, especially in what is called a “soft target” area, will be in Baltimore, where city police have said they are preparing for a crowd of 150,000 at a currently unannounced site.

As for Washington, the size of the crowd expected to attend the inauguration will probably be well over a million, with estimates being 2 to 4 million people, which would be double to quadruple the normal population of Washington, D.C..  Normally, people attend the inauguration and line the parade route, but with numbers into the million amount, combined with the fact that it is the middle of winter, will cause a complicated screening procedure.  People will be wearing heavy coats, further complicating the security screening procedures.

For the first time, the National Mall is being opened up for those wishing to watch the inauguration.  Within this area, the 2 to 4 million people will be squeezed into a 2.5 mile long area.

Then there is the crowd control.  Even when the crowd is passive and adoring, it will be difficult to manage the amount of people attending.  This many people in a small area, can easily hide erratic or suspicious behavior.  And if anything happens, or anything is mistaken to be happen, this could become a logistical nightmare.

In the evening, are the inauguration parties.  Background checks on thousands of cooks, waiters, caterers, attendees, etc will have to be done.  Agents and law enforcement will be at the parties, monitoring everything and anything.  I wonder if they are brave enough to sample the food also.

And meanwhile, the subway and roads will be packed if not impassable, with many roads closed.  More than 100 square blocks of Washington are planned to be closed off.

The big issue with all this, at least from my point of view, is communication between the nearly 20,000 military and law enforcement personnel, between 57 different agencies outside the Secret Service, in addition to those who have personal security.  There’s the Metro Police Department, Capitol Police, Park Police, the FBI, FEMA, ATF, Dept of Homeland Security, you name it in law enforcement and security, they will be there.  Can they all get along in the Joint Operation Center?

And can all of this be handed correctly, and safely for four entire days without being able to secure an entire city, all the subways, buses, cars, trucks, homes, businesses, government buildings, offices, schools, sewers, water ways, highways, alleys, utilities, mail boxes, lawns, trash dumpsters, and water system by shutting the city down? Let us hope so.

Meanwhile, I’ll be more than happy to watch the inauguration on TV or on the net, in the safety of my home, hundreds of miles away, without the insanity of the crowds or the threat of anything happening, happily reliving my memories of Washington, the Mall and Crystal City from over 10 years ago when I worked in DC.  I miss the dim sum restaurant in Chinatown the most.


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