President Bush on Tuesday declared the District a federal emergency area, clearing the way for the city to receive federal money to help cover the overwhelming cost of providing security for official inauguration events.
Officials said it was the first time the designation had ever been used for anything other than a national disaster, such as a hurricane or widespread flooding.
More than 100 police agencies from across the country already have been mobilized to help provide security for the Jan. 20 presidential swearing-in of Barack Obama, which is expected to attract 1 million to 2 million people to the District. Authorities will essentially seal off the downtown and prevent motorists from entering the city from Virginia.
“An emergency exists in the District,” White House press secretary Dana Perino announced.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Tuesday night that D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty had requested the declaration of the city as an emergency zone last week.
Preliminary planning for the inauguration had not taken into account the likelihood of unprecedented crowds, now expected to run as high as 1.5 million to 2 million people, Mr. Stanzel said.
“Because of this anticipated influx of people, declaring an emergency permits the federal government to provide additional requested support … to ensure that the inauguration is not only safe and secure, but that the health and well-being of visitors is preserved,” he said.
D.C. officials have said since November that their only guaranteed money is the annual federal appropriation of $15 million - about $2.3 million less than they spent on security for President Bush’s relatively small second inauguration in 2005.
“We really just don’t know how much we’re going to have to spend,” Mafara Hobson, spokeswoman for Mr. Fenty, said at the time. “All we have right now is the $15 million the federal government allows us.”
Mr. Fenty has said the event will cost the city as much as $75 million. Maryland officials expect state costs to be more than $12 million.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, asked Congress last week for about $12 million to help with the costs.
The estimates include costs for emergency services and Maryland State Police personnel. Hundreds of Maryland state workers will be assisting with work related to the inauguration.
Miss Hobson said the city made its request under the Stafford Act and that the Fenty administration was “pleased the White House has supported our request … for federal support and reimbursement if needed.”
The act, an amended version of the Disaster Relief Act of 1974, allows a president to declare a disaster, which triggers financial and physical assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
In addition to making available additional money, Mr. Bush’s declaration authorizes FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security to provide emergency assistance from Jan. 17 to Jan. 21.