TOPICS > Politics

Washington Braces for Massive Inauguration Day Turnout

January 16, 2009 at 6:20 PM EST
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From transportation plans to inauguration security details, D.C. officials are bracing for one of the biggest days in the city's history. Ray Suarez reports on the massive challenges organizers face and some of the problems involved in managing the crowds.
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RAY SUAREZ: As millions from around the nation prepare to hail the nation’s new chief, the U.S. Marine Corps Band made its own final preparations this morning. The Marine Band has participated in 52 previous inaugurations, making its debut in 1801 for Thomas Jefferson, the first president inaugurated in Washington, D.C.

Now the rest of Washington is putting on final touches on the 56th inauguration as well. There have been dress rehearsals with stand-ins, construction of the inauguration stage, crews bringing in portable toilets, some 5,000 of them from 10 different vendors.

And there are 20 Jumbotron TVs being installed. And, with miles of fencing in place, there’s evidence of the many security measures already put in place, with crews working through frigid temperatures.

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty showed off a replica of Air Force One in an inaugural visitor’s center this morning and said his city is ready.

ADRIAN FENTY (D), Mayor of Washington, D.C.: We have prepared for the biggest crowd that could fit on the Mall as somewhere between three million to five million people or so, if you count the parade route and the Polo Grounds. Crowds are just something you we just won’t know, and not even just crowds, but how they will come to the city is important as well, because if everybody takes the buses and goes to our free range parking spaces, it will be a whole lot smoother than if a lot of people take their own personal vehicles.

RAY SUAREZ: More than just the National Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue must brace for expected crowds. Much of Center City, D.C., is involved in several days of special events.

Fenty’s city administrator, Dan Tangherlini, says Washington is uniquely qualified to take on such a big undertaking.

DAN TANGHERLINI, Deputy Mayor of Washington, D.C.: No one actually puts on events more frequently and at this kind of magnitude than the District of Columbia. There’s no one else who does it quite like we do. No one has to do it as much. No one’s as practiced, in fact, the third highest traffic volume of any municipality, any major city in the country. So, we kind of put on this kind of stuff every day.

Security is a huge challenge

Malcolm Wiley
U.S. Secret Service
We're relying on our partners very heavily for their expertise. Certainly, we will have airplanes in the air that will be manned by military folks. We will have boats in the water that Coast Guard will have jurisdiction over.

RAY SUAREZ: But, here at the Washington field office of the FBI, the fact that this is the first African-American president, coupled with living in an age of ongoing terrorist threat, makes the occasion take on special considerations.

JOSEPH PERSICHINI, JR., Assistant FBI Director: We may be confronted with something we have never seen before.

RAY SUAREZ: The inauguration is deemed a national security special event, and the FBI will have 500 to 700 agents in the city and response teams looking for suspicious activity, says assistant FBI director Joseph Persichini Jr.

JOSEPH PERSICHINI JR.: Everybody is cognizant of the magnitude of this event. It is a global event. And all law enforcement agencies, and our partners around the world are feeding us information as soon as they receive it.

So, I can tell you that, by the hour, we're receiving either tips or intelligence notes or information from law enforcement, from 1-800 numbers, that no lead goes unturned.

RAY SUAREZ: Federal authorities have begun to seal off a security zone extending miles from the Capitol Building, where President-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in Tuesday, though officials say they have detected no credible threat.

But, to be safe, there will be an enormous ground, air and waterborne force ringing the capital. Over 20,000 police officers, National Guard troops and plainclothes agents from more than 50 agencies will be on duty. The U.S. Secret Service is the lead agency.

Here's lead spokesman Malcolm Wiley.

MALCOLM WILEY, Special Agent, U.S. Secret Service: We're relying on our partners very heavily for their expertise. Certainly, we will have airplanes in the air that will be manned by military folks. We will have boats in the water that Coast Guard will have jurisdiction over.

So, for instance, we have subcommittees for airspace security, and for intelligence, and for health issues, and even for chemical and biological issues.

Metro expects record crowds

Angela Gates
Spokeswoman, WMATA
We are beefing up security. We're going to have police at every Metro rail station.

RAY SUAREZ: There's also the matter of getting the trains to run on time.

The Washington Metro, already running near capacity on weekdays, expects record numbers, maybe two million riders, twice the crowd of other historic events in Washington, including the 1993 inauguration of Bill Clinton.

But spokeswoman Angela Gates says they are ready to keep big crowds secure.

ANGELA GATES, Spokeswoman, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority: We are beefing up security. We're going to have police at every Metro rail station. We have 200 to 300 police officers from across the country coming to help us. Our canine and bomb-sniffing dogs will be out throughout the system, so we will have very high visibility. And they will also be helping with crowd control on the platforms.

Some Virginians feel slighted

Rep. Jim Moran
D- VA
For gosh sakes, they closed our bridges. For awhile, it seemed the only way you could get from Virginia to the capital was to swim across the Potomac River.

RAY SUAREZ: Not everyone is happy about the controversial decision to shut down major highways and five vital bridges leading into the city. Vehicle traffic is banned from large sections of downtown as well.

Congressman Jim Moran, whose Northern Virginia district is just across the Potomac River from D.C. and heavily affected by the closures, is angry about some of the security plans.

REP. JIM MORAN (D), Virginia: For gosh sakes, they closed our bridges. For awhile, it seemed the only way you could get from Virginia to the capital was to swim across the Potomac River. Now they're allowing some people to walk across bridges. But that doesn't help an elderly person. And -- and then they're saying you have to be there for three hours ahead of time, standing in the bitter cold.

RAY SUAREZ: The curtailed movement will affect cab driver Addis Aemero, who is excited about the inaugural, but carries with him a list of streets already closed or closing soon.

ADDIS AEMERO, Cab Driver: It might happen pick up one passenger and stuck in the middle of traffic. I don't know how we're going to deal, because we're not going to tell the passenger step out from the car, or something. But we will do our best just convenient for ourselves and for passengers.

Most advanced vehicle in world

Linda Douglass
Press Secretary, Inaugural Committee
People emerge from this several days of experience...with a sense of really having recognized that we share common values and that we are unified as a people and that we are stronger when we are unified.

RAY SUAREZ: One car that won't have a tough time is the new armored presidential limousine being rolled out on Tuesday. But all the understandably secretive Secret Service would say about the car is, it is the most technologically advanced protection vehicle in the world.

There will be a lot of pomp and circumstance and a price tag to go with it. Officials in the District of Columbia have said the city might spend as much as $50 million, and the entire region $75 million, most to be reimbursed.

Linda Douglass, the press secretary of the presidential inaugural committee, says the true measure of success will be:

LINDA DOUGLASS, Press Secretary, Presidential Inaugural Committee: People emerge from this several days of experience where we are trying as much as we can to connect them to each other and to their communities and to their government, that they come away with a sense of really having recognized that we share common values and that we are unified as a people and that we are stronger when we are unified.

RAY SUAREZ: And now, with the big moment only a few days away, the rehearsal is almost done. The Marine Band, the only unit to participate in both the swearing-in and the parade, is running through "Lincoln's Inaugural March," written by the Marine Band's 14th director for President Lincoln's first inaugural.