From protesters planning to block access to security checkpoints to the risk of a terrorist driving a truck through a large crowd, the list of potential Inauguration Day disasters is long, but law enforcement agencies are prepared.
In the lead-up to Friday’s presidential swearing-in ceremony and inaugural parade, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said authorities are not aware of any specific, credible threat to the events.
But with a growing trend of lone-wolf attacks, he said, special precautions are being taken to prevent the kinds of truck attacks that killed dozens last year in Nice, France, and in Berlin.
Large vehicles such as dump trucks and buses will form barriers to strengthen the security perimeter.
“The hard perimeter areas this year in light of the current threat environment — which includes Nice and Germany — will be more heavily fortified against unauthorized vehicles by dump trucks, heavy trucks, trucks with cement, buses and things of the like,” Mr. Johnson said. “That is a precaution that we are doubling down in particular this inauguration.”
An estimated 700,000 to 900,000 people will descend on the National Mall to watch Donald Trump be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.
Though the expected crowd isn’t as large as the 1.8 million estimated to have attended President Obama’s 2009 swearing-in ceremony, security analysts say the nature of protests will make this inauguration more challenging.
Tallying organizations that have registered for demonstration permits as well as others that have expressed intent publicly, authorities count at least 63 Inauguration Day protest groups.
Another 36 groups are expected in the District of Columbia for demonstrations through the rest of the weekend.
“It’s probably more complicated than anything we’ve seen because there is this divisiveness” between Trump supporters and protesters, said Mark Testoni, CEO of SAP National Security Services.
About 28,000 law enforcement officials will be providing security for inauguration events, which will leave about 3 square miles of the District cordoned off behind security barricades.
Ahead of the inauguration, law enforcement likely have been busy accounting for the whereabouts of people on internal watch lists and compiling data on planned protests, Mr. Testoni said.
Though police will have a tremendous physical presence to handle crowds and to serve as deterrents to any bad actors, Mr. Testoni said, there will likely be just as intense a focus behind the scenes to ensure the day’s events do not distract from other types of intrusions such as a cyberattack targeting critical infrastructure.
Inaugural parade demonstrators will include groups supporting the new president, such as Bikers for Trump, longtime anti-war protesters, the ANSWER Coalition and a cohort of anarchists who have announced plans to bring the inauguration to a halt and to block entry to security checkpoints.
Interim Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham said investigators have been monitoring social media and are aware of protesters’ plans.
“Some folks that are indicating on social media that they’re coming to shut down the inauguration or the events,” Chief Newsham said. “That is something that we will be prepared for.”
Mr. Johnson would not divulge what specific actions security personnel are taking to prevent those disruptions, but he said law enforcement agencies “have our ear to the ground, and we listen for and keep an eye on planned demonstrations.”
“Extra precautions are taken to ensure the actual official event cannot be disrupted or blocked,” Mr. Johnson said.
The FBI’s Washington Field Office will serve as a central command post for the more than 30 agencies providing security during Friday’s events. Representatives stationed there from a variety agencies or local and federal agencies will have access to live video feeds of city streets and will coordinate any required response by specialty teams — including bomb technicians, crisis negotiators and those outfitted to handle hazardous materials.
During past mass arrests, authorities have taken people to the Metropolitan Police Academy in Southwest Washington for processing. Police department spokeswoman Rachel Reid declined to say where anyone arrested Friday would be taken for booking.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, describing the city’s security plans for the inauguration, said all spectators and demonstrators are welcome in the nation’s capital but must respect the District’s laws.
“We expect them to exercise their rights peacefully, and we’ll be prepared should anyone choose not to,” she said.
The city has stressed in information disseminated about the inauguration that firearms are not allowed to be carried in the District without a city-issued permit and that even those with permits are barred from carrying guns at special events such as the inauguration.