The Massive Effort to Keep People Safe During Inauguration
Safety and Security Jan 19, 2017

The Massive Effort to Keep People Safe During Inauguration

With so many in attendance for the inauguration, officials want to be prepared. An emergency alert system will play a key role in keeping people safe.

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Months ahead of the 2017 presidential inauguration, security officials have been in high gear and pulling out all the stops to make the event a safe one. No other presidential inauguration has garnered so much debate, spurring officials to take this year’s inauguration to another level when it comes to security.


Among the precautions taken are what the Washington Post calls, “A virtual fortress of roadblocks, fences and armed police.” What does this entail?

  • Trucks filled with sand will block streets
  • Many Metro stations will close days ahead of the event
  • Snipers will be positioned on nearby rooftops
  • Boats will be restricted on the Potomac and Anacostia rivers
  • Manhole covers are welded shut
  • Light poles, trash cans, and mailboxes are removed
  • Metal detectors and bag checks will be stationed throughout the viewing route
  • Cameras will be stationed around the city and monitored 24/7

More than 28,000 security officials will blanket over 100 square blocks from the White House to the Capitol with an estimated cost running in the tens of millions of dollars. The security detail will come from across the nation and include members of the National Guard. While this may seem impressive, the numbers of officers will mimic the number of officers present for President Obama’s swearing-in. For those in law enforcement, this is nothing new; it’s just part of the gig.

Why All the Fuss?

Beyond the constant risk for terrorist activity, close to one million people are expected to show up for the inauguration. Of these, 63 demonstration groups have registered to attend or mentioned their group’s attendance on social media, either in support of or defiance of the President-elect. No matter what side of the fence you are on, there will be plenty of passionate people who will be excited and excitable. With so many avid people in attendance, security and government officials want to be prepared.

Physical barriers and police presence are mainstays for massive public events like the presidential inauguration but they aren’t the end of the story. Thanks to new and emerging technology, there is still more that can be done to protect the people who take part in the event.

Leveraging Technology

The Secret Service and other government agencies are leveraging existing and new technology to monitor and protect the President-elect, the many government officials and dignitaries, and all of the public who attend. One of the most important features of the security plan is a wireless emergency alert system that will instantly warn all attendees of any threat to their safety. This system is part of a broader emergency mass notification system.

D.C. recently tested their wireless emergency alert system in preparation for the event at approximately 3 p.m. on Sunday, January 15th, roughly one week before inauguration day. Those carrying cell phones in and around the Mall received an emergency alert text message before their device emitted a loud sound to get their immediate attention. While the text can be customized to say anything, for testing purposes, this first text simply read, “This is a test of the District of Columbia Emergency Alert System. No action is required.”

For those in charge of such an event, having a way to communicate with security officials, police, and guests without worrying about whether congested networks will prevent message transmission brings peace of mind. The emergency alert system will enable instant and real-time communication with the public but also with those who are most able to control crowds, usher people to safety, and keep people safe. For all those attending, this should bring them peace of mind as well.

As passionate as people are about the new president, we all realize there is a risk for violence. Those in attendance may be thinking more about the historic nature of the event and their ability to make their voice heard than they are with security concerns. While the visual security measures will go a long way to comfort those attending and hopefully discourage bad behavior, what is happening behind the scenes is equally impressive.

Extending the Emergency Alert System

The emergency alert system is nothing new but how it is being used is. Back in 2014, the Federal Communications Commission proposed a rule change that would allow President Obama to speak to the entire country with the flip of a switch in case of an emergency. Prior to this proposal, the system was not capable of reaching every corner of the country at the same time. Each local jurisdiction would receive the message and then have to manually trigger the switch to broadcast the same message to its own viewers/listeners. If one station missed or delayed the message transmission, an entire city could be left out of the loop for critical information.

The new national code was designed to remove geographic and technology restrictions, enabling the president to broadcast his message to the entire country in the event of a nationwide emergency. At the time, however, these messages only included those coming across the television and radio airwaves in the form of an audible voice message and a visual crawler at the top of the TV screen.

Now, the FCC is extending the emergency alerts to wireless technology, a smart move given so many of us have our cell phones with us most of the time. This will enable officials to segment their target audience to deliver relevant messaging to those in a particular area through the use of their cell phones. Only those people in the covered area, such as in the path of the inauguration activities, will receive the text messages should an emergency occur.

Related: Emergency Alert Systems Both Then and Now

Attendees will not need to register their cell phone numbers with the government, however. The technology enables cell phones within range and using the affected cell towers to receive the alert. Wireless companies volunteer to participate in wireless emergency alerts and you can bet they are in agreement to enhance public safety in Washington around the inauguration. Inauguration guests may not realize they are in a geographically targeted zone but should an emergency or crisis evolve, they will receive a text-like message alerting them of imminent threats to their safety.

Tips for Staying Safe at Inauguration

While not many of you likely plan on attending the inauguration, if the numbers are right, at least a million of you are. Here are 9 tips The Washington Post listed this week to help attendees stay safe:

  • Don’t carry a large amount of  cash
  • Pack a photocopy of your airline tickets, passport, credit cards as well as take photos of them to keep on your cell phone
  • Do not carry a wallet in a purse but in an enclosed pocket
  • Carry a bag with a zipper or snaps
  • Wear your bag across your body and keep it close to you at all times
  • Keep your phone in an enclosed pocket
  • Young children, disabled, and elderly people should carry identification, guardian, and medical information
  • In case of emergency or evacuation, call 9-1-1 or U.S. Park Police at (202) 610-7500 and follow police instruction
  • Sign up for alerts from Park Police on missing persons, road closures, serious crimes, emergencies, and more by texting INAUGURATION to 888777

And here are some great travel tips for getting around D.C. before, during, and after the inauguration, where to go, and what to see. For the rest of us, pull up a chair to your TV and watch history unfold.

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