D.C. Security Braces For Inauguration Crush Millions are expected in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to watch President-elect Barack Obama's swearing-in and parade, and to attend the evening's many inaugural balls. Law enforcement officials have devised an unprecedented and elaborate security plan aimed at protecting the president and the public.
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D.C. Security Braces For Inauguration Crush

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D.C. Security Braces For Inauguration Crush

D.C. Security Braces For Inauguration Crush

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

Washington, D.C., is straining beyond capacity this morning. Incoming planes are packed. Hotels are filling up. Celebrities are preening. And visitors are gawking in the run-up to the presidential inauguration. There's a free concert today that will draw a multitude, and millions are expected at the inauguration and parade on Tuesday. This is a huge challenge for law enforcement officials, who have devised an unprecedented and elaborate security plan to protect the new president and the huge crowds. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: While President-elect Obama has been thinking about what to say Tuesday and happy Democrats are figuring out what to wear that night, the Secret Service has been planning too. Actually, their preparations started long ago as the service began working with 57 other agencies to make sure the new president and those who hope to catch a glimpse of him Tuesday are safe. Special agent Ed Donovan is a spokesman for the service.

ED DONOVAN: The Secret Service certainly recognizes the historical significance of this inauguration. It's been widely reported that the crowds are expected to be larger than average. So that's something that we're certainly considering. And the plan that we come up with is going to have to be elastic.

NAYLOR: Latest estimates say as many as two million people might crowd the parade route and fill out the National Mall to watch the events surrounding the inauguration of the nation's first African-American president. Cathy Lanier, the chief of Washington's police department, remembers election night. Thousands of revelers spontaneously poured into the city's neighborhoods to celebrate Mr. Obama's victory, and it became clear then that this would not be an ordinary inauguration.

CATHY LANIER: My officers, we were out standing around these large crowds in Adams Morgan. People were just running over and hugging the officers in just an unbelievable spontaneous reaction.

NAYLOR: And so that gave you a clue as to what you might be expecting in the inauguration.

LANIER: I looked at my assistant chief about 20 minutes into this - and this went on until 4 a.m. on a work night - and we just looked at each other and thought, you know, that whole plan that's almost complete is going to have start all over again now, because it's going to be a very different event.

NAYLOR: The biggest crowds will be on the Mall, where Jumbotrons will show the swearing in ceremonies. The screens will also be used to pass along messages in case an evacuation is needed and to advise when the inaugural parade route is filled to capacity. Some two square miles of the downtown along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route will be fenced off, accessible to people only after going through metal detectors and bag checks. At the Joint Operations Center, law enforcement officials will be monitoring feeds from hundreds of security cameras. They'll be looking, Chief Lanier says, for anything out of the ordinary.

LANIER: This is our city. You know, we patrol it every day, and we know, you know, sometimes things that are very subtle, that are out of place.

NAYLOR: Seemingly, nothing has been left to chance. The Coast Guard will patrol the Potomac River, military and police will patrol the skies and there will be lots of police on foot. More than 4,000 officers from 99 different departments will augment 4,000 D.C. cops. Lanier says while most police will be visible, many will not.

LANIER: There will be a lot of security, layered security, some that you will see and some that you will not. Yes, I have both plainclothes and uniformed folks out there, but I think it's very safe to say that there will be many, many, many law enforcement folks out there that you won't see.

NAYLOR: After the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in which a major hotel was targeted, police began briefing hotel and restaurant managers to keep an eye out for suspicious behavior. But authorities say their biggest worries are simply the numbers of people who may show up in Washington and getting them out if something should happen. While law enforcement hopes it's planned for almost every contingency, officials say they want the day to be memorable for the right reasons. Secret Service Agent Ed Donovan.

DONOVAN: We don't want the story at the end of the day to be the security. We want it to be the democratic process. And we hope that that's not the case that people are talking about security after this. We hope that they're talking about what a great event it was and how the democratic process proceeded.

NAYLOR: Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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