Security at inauguration will be high

WASHINGTON – The first inauguration since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks will lock down much of the nation’s capital with “unprecedented security,” Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced Jan. 11.

An army of 6,000-plus police officers, more than 2,500 military personnel and thousands of Secret Service and other agents from 60 agencies will employ the latest high-tech gear and surveillance to protect the 55th inaugural on Jan. 20.

“Security will be the highest levels it has ever been for any inauguration,” Ridge said. “We will have 24-7 surveillance of key inaugural facilities.”

While he knew of no specific threats targeting President Bush’s second inaugural, Ridge added that an inauguration is “the most visible manifestation of our democracy.”

To protect the swearing-in ceremony on the west side of the Capitol and the parade along Pennsylvania Avenue, security teams will use chemical sensors, jet fighter patrols overhead and dozens of bomb-sniffing dogs.

Agents in a new command center in suburban Fairfax County, equipped with giant plasma screens and three-dimensional maps, will monitor all events.

Many of the plans and tactics were used at last year’s national political conventions, the state funeral for Ronald Reagan and the opening of the World War II Memorial.

One innovation is a bomb-jamming device used in Iraq to foil the detonation of explosives. Army Maj. Gen. Galen Jackman, in charge of coordinating much of the security, said bomb squads, emergency medical teams and even an engineering unit to deal with collapsed buildings will be on standby.

“This is the center of gravity for our country,” Jackman said. “We do not underestimate our enemies.”

Large swaths of downtown Washington will be closed to traffic, and parking garage use and truck deliveries will be tightly restricted.

Two Metro subway stations will be closed much of the day. The no-fly zone for private planes will be extended to a radius of 23 miles from the city’s center.

Many of the major law and lobbying firms along the parade route are cutting back on traditional parties because of anticipated problems for guests and deliveries getting through checkpoints.

Several groups plan to protest Bush’s second term, and D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey said protesters and other members of the public would have access to the parade route, subject to screenings and searches.

But protest signs cannot be attached to anything that could be a weapon, the Secret Service announced.

No picnic baskets, large backpacks, strollers or umbrellas will be allowed along the parade route.