President Obama's second inauguration is expected to draw less than half the number of visitors who descended on the Mall for his historic oath-taking in 2009, the top D.C. security official said Thursday.
While predicting crowds for Inauguration Day is "imprecise," the city is planning for 600,000 to 800,000 visitors at the high-profile event on Jan. 21 — well shy of the roughly 1.8 million who attended Mr. Obama's welcome to the White House in January 2009, said Chris T. Geldart, director of the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.
Mr. Geldart laid out the figures in assuring a D.C. Council committee that local and federal officials are working together to iron out logistics and security strategies ahead of the big day.
"There's not a specific threat that's been articulated to this point," Mr. Geldart said after the hearing, with the caveat there are "always folks that want to do harm."
Mr. Obama will be sworn in at a private ceremony on the appointed date of Jan. 20, which this year falls on a Sunday. His public swearing at the 57th Presidential Inauguration will occur at noon the next day, before a 2 p.m. parade from the Capitol to the White House.
While officials of all stripes have gathered steering committees to plan for the event, this year's rendition is not expected to draw the shoulder-to-shoulder hordes that turned out four years ago to see the nation's first black president place his hand on the Bible and raise his right hand. Based on early hotel reservations and other signals, it appears the bulk of inauguration attendees will come in from neighboring Maryland and Virginia instead of far-flung parts of the country, according to Mr. Geldart.
Officials have been coordinating their plans for months, and the construction of reviewing stands at the White House and in front of city hall began in mid-November.
"There wasn't anything particularly dramatic here and that's exactly the way it should be," D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a Democrat, said after the hearing. "They're doing their planning and they're foreseeing all kinds of possible things that could go wrong."
Every four years, the inauguration is a tightly orchestrated event for city and federal security agencies alike. More than 3,000 law enforcement officers, including about 2,000 brought in from other cities and states, are expected to be on hand to secure the event, according to Mr. Geldart's preliminary figures.
"It's a partnership," Mr. Geldart said, referring to the dual hierarchy of command. "From the federal perspective, the Secret Service is in charge. From the District perspective, the chief of police is in charge of security."
Leaning on lessons from 2009, Mr. Geldart said he does not want any pedestrians to walk through the Third Street Tunnel to get to the other side of the crowded Mall, an unsafe situation that also caused some ticket holders holding purple passes to miss many of the festivities.
"Suffice it to say, I made the request to the Secret Service to disband the color purple altogether for tickets," he said.
Mr. Geldart also said he would like to see more signs around the Mall so out-of-towners can find their way around.
Metro will open its rail service at 4 a.m. and close at 2 a.m., including rush-hour service until 9 p.m. at peak fares. The Smithsonian and Archives-Navy Memorial stations will be closed at the request of the Secret Service because both sites are close to the event's secure staging area and parade route.
Mr. Mendelson said Metro should find a way to keep motorists moving along at parking garages outside its suburban stations. Last time around, cars backed up as payments were processed at the gate.
On a lighter note, Metro is offering an Inauguration Day keepsake — a $15 commemorative SmarTrip card that is loaded with a one-day pass for unlimited rail travel and features Mr. Obama smiling in front of the American flag.
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