KWAME HOLMAN: On the eve of President Bush's second inauguration-- the first since the Sept. 11 attacks-- parts of downtown Washington have become almost fortress-like. Ten-foot high barriers line the park in front of the White House; 100 city blocks now are closed to traffic between the president's residence and the Capitol.
Two heavily used subway stations have been shut down. Sharpshooters will be deployed on the roofs of all centrally- located buildings while bomb-sniffing dogs work the streets below. Police helicopters will hover overhead tomorrow, beaming live images from the scene. And anti-aircraft missile sites scattered around the city will be at the ready.
In total, a 13,000-strong security force composed of 7,000 military and 6,000 police and Secret Service members will be on hand, some monitoring the site of the president's speech on the west front of the Capitol. They will stand by as an expected 11,000 people march in the inauguration parade from the Capitol Building, down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge recently met with some of those security forces at an inspection arranged ahead of tomorrow's ceremonies. Ridge acknowledged that terrorist chatter is at a low point recently compared with the run-up to previous major events. But he pointed out that the nation still is at war. And with the high profile of a presidential inauguration, security would be the tightest in history.
TOM RIDGE: You can well imagine that the security for this occasion will be unprecedented. Protective measures will be seen. There will be quite a few that are not seen. Our goal is that any attempt on the part of anyone or any group to disrupt the inaugural will be repelled by multiple layers of security.
KWAME HOLMAN: Some half a million people are expected to participate in inauguration- related events. Most will be subjected to screening by metal detectors or security personnel on their way to the site of the president's speech or to a location along the parade route.
The 250,000 passes for up-close spots along the route have been printed using special anti-counterfeiting features. Charged with keeping the crowds orderly is the United States Park Police. Chief Dwight Pettiford:
CHIEF DWIGHT PETTIFORD: We pride ourselves on being able to handle large crowds. That's something we've become very proficient at.
KWAME HOLMAN: Protesters also will be part of tomorrow's crowds. The National Park Service has given ANSWER, an anti-war group, an open space to gather along Pennsylvania Avenue a few blocks from the Capitol, and eight other locations have been set aside for registered protests.
Unannounced groups also are expected, and authorities want to avoid incidents similar to one during the last inauguration when President Bush's limousine was hit by an egg. Watching over everything will be cutting edge surveillance cameras sending pictures to a specially-established joint command center in a secret location in northern Virginia.
In addition to monitoring activities on the streets, officials at the center -- representing 40 federal agencies -- are tracking aerial surveillance data and checking sensors that test for biological or chemical agents. Coordinating the agencies for Thursday's inauguration and in charge of a response in the event of an emergency is the job of the United States Secret Service. Tom Mazur has been an agent there for 17 years.
TOM MAZUR: We have a wealth of knowledge. We've been doing this for years. And, of course, no matter where these events take place, we count very heavily upon our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners, the Department of Defense and all the other assets that are pulled in to make one of these scenes go by, to create this scene with a security plan that ensures a safe and secure environment for the president, our protectees, for the participants of the events as well as for the general public who may attend these events, and, quite honestly, the citizens of the affected area, like the citizens here of Washington, D.C., in this case.
KWAME HOLMAN: Mazur acknowledged that creating a secure environment in a large swath of the downtown area has inconvenienced many Washingtonians and visitors here for the festivities. District of Columbia leaders agree.
Its lone congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, says the enhanced security measures have put both a physical and financial burden on the city. She points out that Mr. Bush's first inauguration cost the District $8 million, while tomorrow's will top $17 million.
DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: This means we're paying, for example, the salaries and the lunch money for police who come from the surrounding area to help us keep the security what it should be during the parade and during the entire festivities. All of that is charged to the District of Columbia. All of it was always reimbursed in the past.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Bush administration did respond to the District's complaints. It told city officials that in order to pay for police overtime, security fences and parade route bleachers they should dip into their share of federal homeland security funds otherwise allocated for hospitals, fire-fighting equipment and transit command centers.
DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: If we were asked to pay for the inauguration out of our Medicaid money or out of our money for mass transit, everyone would understand that that's quite inappropriate. It's worse to have to pay for the inauguration out of funds that have been designated for homeland security priorities to protect the nation's capital from terrorism.
KWAME HOLMAN: Looking ahead to tomorrow, the Secret Service's Tom Mazur said he hoped people would tolerate a few inconveniences for the sake of security.
TOM MAZUR: You know there will be inconveniences; we understand that. We've tried to minimize them as much as we can, and we hope for some understanding there and appreciation from the people who are out there. And, you know, their good common sense should come into play as well.
KWAME HOLMAN: And if people are forced to wait in long lines tomorrow or have trouble moving around town, Delegate Norton urged them to remember that the thousands of security personnel are simply doing their jobs.
DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: They're taking orders from way on high. They are trained to be very polite. They're trained to answer your questions, and we're going to work harder and harder with them so that there's less and less inconvenience. And I think most people will be able to matriculate the system this time. I think the greatest problem is going to be not the security, but the cold.
KWAME HOLMAN: There were snow flurries in Washington today. The latest forecast for tomorrow calls for temperatures in low 30s during the president's speech.