Wednesday, January 14, 2009

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.

FEMA officials said the declaration authorizes the agency to assist the District in emergency efforts “to save lives and protect public health and safety.” Officials said the agency’s role will be to respond to a natural disaster, act of terrorism or other man-made disaster.

White House officials said they would either pay for the needed services or reimburse the District for sums it spends beyond the $15 million appropriation.

The Secret Service, the lead agency for official inauguration events, is already on high alert for inauguration week, having declaring it a national security special event.

Inauguration Day 2005 attracted about 300,000 people and cost $17.3 million for security and public services. Mayor Anthony A. Williams had to dip into the city’s Homeland Security fund to cover all the costs that year.

The total cost of Mr. Bush’s second inauguration was about $40 million, including concerts, dinners and balls that were financed by private donations.

The record attendance at any Inauguration Day attendance was that of Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, which attracted 1.2 million visitors to the District.

Much of the cost to the city will come from the Metropolitan Police Department, which will have all 4,000 officers on duty for most of the five days, much of that on overtime. The department also has hired an additional 4,000 officers from more than 93 jurisdictions across the country.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Air Force are among those contributing to the security effort.

FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison named Donald L. Keldsen as the federal coordinator for the inauguration events.

The agency also activated its National Response Coordination Center and Regional Response Coordination Center for Region III and its East Coast National Incident Management Assistance Team.

The White House announcement came hours after Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan met in the District with Mr. Fenty, Mr. O’Malley and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine to finalize the preparations.

City officials reported a surge in registration for charter bus parking over the past week. Mr. Fenty said more than 3,000 buses have registered.

The D.C. Department of Transportation has plans to put buses in such place as RFK Stadium and Nationals Park, but Mr. Fenty expressed concern about unregistered buses arriving in the District.

Initial plans called for buses to park at Metro lots, but these lots will now be available for car parking, said Karyn Le Blanc, DDOT spokeswoman.

Mr. Kaine defended the bridge closings, saying the move was essential to managing traffic.

“If Virginia were to allow unimpeded access of personal and commercial vehicles on I-395 and I-66 inbound, … we would experience massive gridlock on the roads,” he said.

Even if the bridges were kept open, the parking situation for personal vehicles would be confusing, he said.

“No one is being restricted from entering Washington, D.C., or attending the inaugural events,” Mr. Kaine said.

When asked if he would encourage people to come to the inauguration, Mr. Kaine said that “if people want to come, they should come, but you just need to have a plan. Don’t wake up that day and say, ‘By gosh, we want to come down.’ It’s just not going to work.”

Mr. O’Malley asked area residents to be considerate of people who were traveling long distances.

“On Inauguration Day, if there is any way you can avoid traveling on I-495, you would be doing all of your neighbors who are coming from around the country a tremendous service,” he said.

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