‘Unprecedented’: Major inauguration security measures go into effect throughout DC

A view down Pennsylvania Avenue shows the security around the Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and other officials provided more details of the “unprecedented” security for next week’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Those measures include fencing off nearly the entire National Mall and widespread street closures and vehicle checks that will create a “hardened perimeter” around a large chunk of downtown D.C.

Late Friday evening, Virginia’s congressional delegation announced nearly all of the major bridges crossing the Potomac River from Virginia into D.C. would close next week, from early Tuesday morning to early Thursday morning.

The bridges that will close to both traffic and pedestrians are the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, the Arlington Memorial Bridge, the Interstate 395 Bridge and the 14th Street Bridge.

Thousands of National Guard troops are already on patrol on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, which was the site of a deadly siege by supporters of President Donald Trump last week, and elsewhere around D.C.

Many of the road closures in the District went into effect Friday, and nearly a dozen Metro stations are already closed. The fencing around the National Mall went up Friday morning.

Bowser continued her call for people to stay home and watch the inauguration on TV.

“We want everybody to enjoy it and enjoy it right in their own states, in their own living rooms and with their own families,” Bowser said during the news conference Friday.

Matt Miller, special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service’s Washington Field Office, said federal officials are monitoring a “proliferation of, for lack of a better term, chatter around the country” about potential threats.

He added that the FBI is working 24 hours a day “to pursue every lead, every credible threat, and run that to the ground.”

When asked specifically if federal law enforcement officials had intelligence that extremist groups, such as the Proud Boys, were planning to show up in D.C. for the inauguration, Miller deferred to the FBI.

“There’s a great deal of very concerning chatter, and it’s what you don’t know that we are preparing for,” Miller said. “So, I don’t know if anyone has raised their hand to say, ‘We are coming, we will be there.’ But we are preparing as if they are.”

Miller said inauguration planning began more than a year ago, but that a special security designation was recently extended “in response to the events of Jan. 6, when an election protest turned into a violent, deadly and unlawful assault on the United States Capitol.”

He added, “We cannot allow a recurrence of the chaos and illegal activity that the United States and the world witnessed last week.”

Street closures

The street closures in the downtown core — many of which have already gone into effect — create a “green line,” which Miller called a “soft perimeter,” and a “red line,” beyond which all incoming vehicles will be searched for explosives, weapons and other prohibited items, he said.

A list of the street closures is available online. A map showing the restrictions is also expected to be released by authorities. Below is a Google map of street closures as of Friday afternoon.

D.C. residents can sign up to receive alerts about the inauguration by texting INAUG2021 to 888-777. More information is also available on inauguration.dc.gov.

For residents who live and work in the areas where there are street closures and tightened security, Miller said the agency is “keenly aware” of the impact of security measure on District residents.

He said the area inside the security perimeter has been split up into a dozen separate zones, each with its own Secret Service agent responsible for reaching out to property managers and businesses to coordinate what people will need to get in and out on foot, and when parking garages will close. If residents are still confused, Miller recommended talking to their individual property managers who will know how to contact the specific Secret Service liaison.

During a Q&A Friday evening with business owners and religious and community organizations, acting D.C. police Chief Robert Contee said there are green zones and red zones, and residents can have access to green zones that are further out of the city.

People who need to get in can tell the National Guards member stationed in that green zone that they live there or they have a business there. However, those entering with a fully loaded truck, for example, will be questioned. It’s an “exercise of common sense,” Contee said.

Contee also said that there is a plan to secure places of worships if something should take place. He advised those places to have working cameras, in case there is a need for a follow-up investigation.

Because there is such a “robust and hardened perimeter” around downtown D.C., concentrated in the Penn Quarter area, federal officials recognize there is the potential for people planning harm “to go elsewhere, whether it’s back to their state capitals or to other parts of the city,” Miller said.

He added, “We can’t create a fortress and allow the rest of the city to suffer” in terms of first responders or other public safety measures.

Contee said the entire 3,800-member police force would be all hands on deck for the inauguration, and would work to ensure the rest of the city is protected as well — not just the secured and blocked-off areas downtown.

Metro will close a total of 13 stations throughout D.C. for the inauguration — 11 of the stations were already closed Friday, and two more will close Saturday.

Metro riders will see transit police in force with extra help from transit police officers from Baltimore, New York, New Jersey, Chicago, New Orleans, Houston, Denver and San Francisco, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said.

National Mall closure

Chain link fence borders a walkway leading down to a long reflecting pool and the tower of the Washington Monument in the distance.
Fencing goes up on the National Mall on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. (Courtesy National Park Service)

Jeff Reinbold, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks for the National Park Service, said the closure of the National Mall, which is normally packed with visitors and well-wishers on Inauguration Day, was made at the request of the Secret Service.

Two areas along Pennsylvania Avenue — one near the U.S. Navy Memorial and one near the John Marshall Park — have been set up for small First Amendment demonstrations on Inauguration Day, Reinbold said.

The demonstrations are limited to 100 people, who must pass through magnetometers and will be escorted by police, he added.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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