Friday, December 12, 2008

The Secret Service on Thursday dismissed estimates that 4 million or more people would descend on the District for the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, easing concerns about shortages and logistical nightmares that accompanied such forecasts.

“We have seen nothing to suggest that there will be 4 million people in attendance, but if that many people come, we will be prepared for it,” Secret Service spokesman Malcolm Wiley said at a multi-agency conference Thursday on security and other preparations.

Mr. Wiley refused to discuss official estimates, however.

“This is a historic event, and we´ve seen the president-elect´s ability to draw a crowd,” Mr. Wiley said.

Updated: Some have estimated that 4 million or more visitors could attend the inauguration. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, has repeated that figure, but a spokeswoman emphasized late Thursday that that was just a “guesstimate.”

The record for inaugural attendance is 1.2 million for the swearing-in of Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.

Although no agencies have released official estimates, Metro officials say they are preparing for their maximum capacity of 1 million daily riders on Inauguration Day.

The Secret Service, the Capitol Police, the Metropolitan Police and the U.S. Park Police are coordinating the mammoth security effort for the Jan. 20 inauguration and related activities, which involve about 60 organizations, including military units.

Preparations are expected to resemble those of post-Sept. 11, with countersnipers on rooftops and the Coast Guard and Air Force providing water and air support.

The Metropolitan Police Department and assisting agencies will field 8,000 patrol officers. That is 1,000 more than were used for President Bush´s 2005 swearing-in, police spokesman Steven Sund said.

On duty will be 4,000 D.C. officers and an additional 4,000 from about 96 other law enforcement agencies across the country, including New York, Florida and Ohio.

Police have not altered their plans in response to emergency legislation from the D.C. Council, which Mr. Fenty reiterated Wednesday that he would sign, extending bar closing hours to 5 a.m. and allowing restaurants to serve food 24 hours a day, Mr. Sund said.

Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Traci Hughes dispelled concerns that the inauguration will remove officers from patrols in other areas of the city.

“Every Metro Police officer will be detailed for the inauguration, but they will not be taken from other areas of the city,” she said.

Concerns remain about whether the agencies will be able to accommodate and provide security for the huge influx of visitors.

Evacuation plans in the case of terrorism or some other catastrophic event largely will be based on those drawn up for previous inaugurations or other large-scale events. Mr. Wiley sought to assuage concerns that those plans would be insufficient.

“We have people who are specifically looking at every possibility, and we have planned for anything that may happen,” he said.

Jo´Ellen Countee, spokeswoman for D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said the agency is creating a mass notification system. The system will use “loudspeaker type instruments” for alerts at Metro stations and other public areas.

Officials did not have details on checkpoints, roadblocks and street closings, saying those preparations would be set next week.

Mr. Wiley did say security checkpoints will be set up across the parade route, as well as at the Mall viewing area.

“It doesn´t matter where you go to watch, prepare to be screened,” he said.

Last week, the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced that the area of the Mall east of the Washington Monument will be open for visitors to view the inauguration. That area traditionally has been used as a staging ground for marching bands and parade floats.

Kevin Griffis, a spokesman for the committee, said that the traditional parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House would not be altered to accommodate the large crowd.

National Park Service spokesman Bill Line said that people who plan to view the inauguration on the Mall should “use common sense” when deciding what to bring. The Secret Service has banned visitors from bringing chairs, backpacks, strollers, glass containers and pets to the Capitol or the inaugural parade route. Visitors can bring those items to the Mall viewing area.

“We believe that the concept ‘less is more´ is wise at this point,” he said.

Camping along the parade route will be prohibited the night before inauguration, as the route will be closed until 7 a.m. the morning of the swearing-in.

Metro Spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the agency will open at 4 a.m. on Jan. 20, and that in its “best case” scenario, Metro can serve about 1 million riders.

Questions have been raised over whether the agencies will have enough public restrooms available for visitors. Miss Farbstein said that Metro will provide 150 portable restrooms at selected rail stations. For a crowd of 1 million people, that means one bathroom for every 6,000 visitors.

Mr. Line said the National Park Service has not tabulated how many portable restrooms will be necessary for the Mall.

“We believe we can accommodate the number of people who will be attending the event,” he said.

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