As President Bush’s second inauguration draws near, so does the implementation of some of the tightest security a city accustomed to a high police presence has ever seen.
“There is an unprecedented high level of security for the presidential inauguration,” University Police chief Dolores Stafford said.
Stafford encouraged GW community members to “carry their GWorld card at all times” on Thursday, when no classes will be held. Most of the University’s academic and administrative buildings will also be closed. In recent years, officials have called off classes on inaugural days because of the difficulties most staff and professors would encounter trying to get to campus.
Stafford said students and staff should be aware of road closures and detours. Starting Wednesday night, about 100 square blocks of downtown D.C. east of campus will be closed to all vehicles. Drivers will only be allowed to use campus streets to reach residences and businesses.
The official inaugural schedule begins at 9 a.m. with a service at St. John’s Church, located across from the White House. At noon, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist will administer the oath of office to President Bush in front of thousands of people at the Capitol. At 2:30 p.m., Bush will be driven in a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.
The once-every-four-years event will be followed by a night of partying at nine official inaugural balls and several unofficial balls, including GW’s at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.
Those planning to attend daytime inaugural events are being told to allow ample time to pass through one of 12 public entry points and face other security measures such as metal detectors. The Secret Service released a list of prohibited items that range from “supports for signs and placards, packages, coolers” to “bicycles or any other items determined to be a potential safety hazard” that spectators will have to abandon before being allowed to enter.
The Secret Service, the bureau responsible for securing the first post-9/11 inauguration, will be based in Fairfax, Va., with 50 other state, local and federal agencies interpreting live data from across the city on Thursday. Certain street closures and emergency no-parking areas will take effect as early as Jan. 16 and will not be lifted until Jan. 21.
Onlookers are being advised to either walk or use the Metro if possible on Inauguration Day. Those choosing to use public transportation will endure a wave of security on their way to the event, as Metro Transit Police have undergone training to help them identify suspicious persons or behavior. The Archives-Navy Memorial station on the yellow and green lines, and the Smithsonian station on the blue line, will be closed on Thursday until 6 p.m.
The University has worked with Metropolitan Police, the D.C. Emergency Management Agency and other agencies in the city to make Jan. 20 as secure as possible, Stafford said.
MPD will be serving in a “support role” to the Secret Service and Office of Homeland Security, said Officer Kenneth Bryson of the department’s Public Information Office. There are so many events and agencies involved, he said, that “a lot of it is out of our control as far as the D.C. police are concerned.”
Bush’s 2001 inauguration saw some of the largest numbers of demonstrators in the event’s history, and many who oppose the president plan to protest this time as well.
TurnYourBackOnBush.org plans to have its members turn their back to Bush’s motorcade – which will start at the Capitol and end at the White House – to represent their belief that he has neglected the country.
The anti-war group ANSWER is urging supporters to show up at John Marshall Park, at 4th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, to protest. It said people should arrive at 9 a.m. to ensure they will gain access to the inauguration area.
ANSWER was awarded a permit to use the park, and the site allows them “210 feet of frontage to Pennsylvania Avenue,” spokesman Bill Hackwell said.
MPD’s Bryson said the department is “not anticipating many problems” and encouraged everyone attending the inauguration to exercise their first amendment rights in a lawful manner.
-Michael Barnett contributed to this report.