(by Susan Jones, CNSNews.com) – It’s not just a presidential inauguration. It’s a National Special Security Event (NSSE), and the precautions for Barack Obama’s swearing-in are unprecedented – to the point where many Americans will be unable to get into the nation’s capital on Tuesday, Jan. 20.

When an event is designated an NSSE, the Secret Service becomes the lead federal agency “for the design and implementation of the operational security plan.” But the enormity of that “operational security plan” is drawing loud complaints from many people living in the Washington area, especially those in Virginia.

“On January 20, 2009, personal vehicles will not be permitted into Washington, D.C., from Virginia,” says a news release issued by federal, state and local agencies.

In fact, every Potomac River bridge from Virginia into Washington will be closed or restricted in some way on Inauguration Day.

There are hundreds of road closures, not only in the District of Columbia itself, but inside the Beltway that circles the city. Portions of major Interstate highways will be among the roads closed to ordinary traffic.

The D.C. government’s Inaugural Web page puts it bluntly: “Do you have the physical stamina to stand outside in the cold in a large crowd for 6 hours or more and then spend additional hours getting back home or to your hotel? Are you are comfortable in extremely large crowds? Can you walk long distances to get to and from your destination? If you are planning to bring your children can you care for and keep track of them in large crowds for long hours?”

People who decide to brave the hardships will then face long lines at security screenings, the D.C. government warns. Backpacks are out, and measure your handbag: Bags larger than 8 by 6 by 4 inches will not be allowed past the security checkpoints.

The D.C. government says the following items will be prohibited from the Inaugural parade route, the White House reviewing stand and the Inaugural balls: firearms, ammunition, explosives, weapons of any kind, aerosols, supports for signs and placards, packages, coolers, thermal or glass containers, backpacks, bags larger than 8 by 6 by 4 inches, laser pointers, animals other than helper/guide dogs, structures, bicycles — and “any other items determined to be a potential safety hazard.”

Only signs made of cardboard or cloth – and no larger than three feet in width, 20 feet in length and one-quarter inch in thickness — will be allowed.

Surrendered items will not be returned.

You may not see Obama

People may stake out spots on the parade route starting at 7 a.m. on Jan. 20 at one of 13 entry points. Those entry points “will remain open until the parade route can no longer accommodate additional people,” the security plan says.

Parade watchers should “be prepared to stand “shoulder to shoulder” in large crowds.” Moreover, “the crowds and security restrictions could make it hard to catch a glimpse of the new president in person.,” the D.C. government warns.

And if you do get separated from your group, be aware that “cell phones may not work because of high demand.”  Beyond restrictions on the ground, “enhanced airspace restrictions” will take effect on Inauguration Day, and “there will be an enhanced security presence on the waterways around Washington, D.C.”

Public transportation is expected to be overwhelmed.

Washington’s Metro train system has about 60,000 parking spaces in 29 lots and 22 garages throughout the Washington region for private motorists to park on Inauguration Day.

Transportation and security planners expect up to 10,000 private buses carrying 500,000 participants to Washingtonfor the Inaugural events. But charter buses will not be able to park and/or drop off passengers at any Metro station in Washington D.C., Virginia, or Maryland, and that means many charter bus passengers will have to walk from specially designated bus parking zones.

Terror fears

According to the Associated Press, the inauguration of Barack Obama is “an attractive target for international and domestic terrorists,” although intelligence officials have not identified any specific threat.

“We have scrubbed very hard to look at anything that would suggest a credible, imminent threat or one that was specifically focused on the inauguration,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the A.P.

“We’re not, at this point, aware of a credible, specific, imminent threat that would affect the inauguration.”

An internal intelligence assessment obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday says the high visibility of the event, the presence of dignitaries and the significance of swearing in the country’s first black president make the inauguration vulnerable to attacks.

What concerns analysts most, the report says, is the potential use of improvised explosive devices, a hostage situation or suicide bombers or a so-called lone wolf.

While security will be tight around the U.S. Capitol, the joint FBI and Homeland Security assessment says nearby hotels, public gatherings, restaurants and roads could be vulnerable to some kind of attack.

Security and transportation plans for the Inaugural have been developed by a partnership of local, state and federal law enforcement and public safety agencies, including the District Department of Transportation , the District of Columbia Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the Virginia State Police, the Maryland Department of Transportation,the United States Secret Service, the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the United States Capitol Police and the United States Park Police.

The Web sites of those groups include detailed information, maps and other helpful tips.

(The Associated Press contributed some of the information used in this report.)

All original CNSNews.com material, copyright 1998-2008 Cybercast News Service. Reprinted here with permission from CNSNews. Visit the website at CNSNews.com.


1. What is an NSSE? What happens when an event is designated an NSSE?

2. What specific vehicle/bridge/road restrictions will be implemented on inauguration day?

3. Re-read the list of items prohibited from the inaugural parade route. Why are these items prohibited?

4. What three factors make the Presidential inauguration vulnerable to attacks, according to an internal intelligence assessment obtained by the AP on Wednesday?

5. What four potential types of attacks concern security analysts most, according to the intelligence report obtained by the AP?

6. Apart from the U.S. Capitol where Mr. Obama will take the oath of office, what locations could be vulnerable to some kind of attack?

7. Re-read para. 6 and 11-13. The D.C. government is attempting to prepare inauguration day spectators for the challenges of attending. Would any of these reminders cause you to change your mind about attending? Explain your answer.


For further information on what you should know if attending the Inaugural Parade, visit the following websites:

The D.C. government website at inauguration.dc.gov.

The U.S. Secret Service website at secretservice.gov/presidential_inaugural.shtml.

The U.S. Capitol police website at uscapitolpolice.gov.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority website at wmata.com/getting_around/metro_events/inauguration.cfm.  

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