Answers on Inauguration Access and Banned Items
Post reporter David Nakamura and former Secret Service agent Joseph Funk today hosted online discussions in which they answered readers questions about how to navigate and be comfortable at tomorrow's events. Here are some excerpts:
Anonymous: What time does the Mall open to the general, unticketed public?
Are there specific entry points? Or specific areas (besides the reserved area) that will not be open for entry?
David Nakamura: The Mall never officially closes, as public, federal land. However, Secret Service has urged people not to camp overnight; they've asked that people begin arriving at 4 a.m., which is also the time that Metro begins service. There will not be major checkpoints to get onto the mall, though some streets and places will be closed, so you might have to weave around to get there. Now, if you have a swearing-in ticket, you will have to go through security, which opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 11:30 a.m. when the official program begins. Likewise, the Parade route has checkpoints and will open at 7 a.m. Mayor Fenty has said that Secret Service will close the parade checkpoints once it is full--about 300,000 to 350,000 people, which could be as early as 10 a.m., according to officials.
Upper Marlboro, Md.: So just to be clear... If we are headed to the non-ticketed Mall area west of the Capitol, can we bring backpacks with food and extra belongings?
David Nakamura: Yes, that is correct.
Clifton, Va.: I have friends arriving from Europe for the inaugural. How is cab service holding up from Dulles to downtown?
David Nakamura: Today should be okay and tomorrow taxis are allowed over the Va. bridges, though there could be tieups because of charter buses and official vehicles... Buy a copy of the Post's grab-and-go guide in tomorrow's paper (it also appeared in yesterday's editions if you have a Sunday paper).
Washington, D.C.: Has a decision been made yet about whether bleacher ticket holders need to get through security before the parade route reaches capacity? There is a lot of confusion out there, and it would be really unfair if those of us who have tickets (which we bought) are turned away. Thanks for any info you can provide!
David Nakamura: What we're told is that once they reach capacity on the parade route and close security, you won't get in even if you have a ticket.
Washington, D.C.: If you are inside the ticketed area in front of the Capitol, can you bring binoculars? I don't see them on the prohibited items list.
David Nakamura: If they're not on that list, they're probably okay, within reasonable size.
Silver Spring, Md.: Can you please confirm for me -- is the list of prohibited items, specifically backpacks, thermoses, and anything to keep from freezing -- is it applicable to the non-ticketed area? Or only the ticketed area? Last week in a chat you guys said only the ticketed area, but the Presidential Inaugural Committee's official web site seems not to specify. It's VERY confusing, and if I'm going to forefit my thermos of coffee I wanna know I actually have to! Thanks!
David Nakamura: Again, from everything we're told those items are banned only in ticketed area.
Please DO bring your chairs and blankets to the Mall: It's unfortunate that the Park Service created so much confusion about whether folding chairs and blankets would be allowed on the Mall. Being seated = more comfortable wait, better views of the Jumbotrons for everyone, easier to spot the friends and family you are trying to meet, AND easier for the Park Service to monitor capacity and crowd control issues. Yesterday's concert would have been a much more pleasant experience if more people had been prepared to sit.
David Nakamura: They would not let you in with a folding chair to secure areas yesterday, but you certainly could have set it up by a Jumbotron outside the secure zone and watched from there.
Handicapped-accessible?: What accomodations are being made for people who must use wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, etc.? Or are they being discriminated against?
David Nakamura: People with wheelchairs and other medical needs will be allowed to attend.
Rye, N.Y.: Mr. Funk: Is there such a thing as too much security when it comes to an event such as this?
Joseph Funk: In a sense yes. But I think when you look at the consequences I believe you need to do all that is humanly possible.
Prescott, Ariz.: A white supremacist named Hal Turner is bragging on his Web site about the ability to drop bombs on the inauguration from remote controlled helium balloons. Do threats like this get taken seriously?
Joseph Funk: No threats even the one you mentioned is taken for granted however concerning the one described I can not think of anyway possible that it would be effective.
Washington, D.C.: What additional variables does a temperature at or below freezing create for an event like this, insofar as they affect your responsibilities?
Joseph Funk: Other than personal comfort the temperature does not have much of an effect on the security plans.
Chantilly, Va.: How have the tools available for establishing a security plan changed over the years? Has technology helped or hindered the planning process? I guess another way of saying that is, "how much information is too much?" Can the agents on the ground ever have too much information?
Joseph Funk: Great question that would take too much time to answer on this forum. However, as the "bad guys" employ better technology so must the various security elements. In my opinion technology can only assist the law enforcement agencies.
Christopher Dean Hopkins
January 19, 2009; 2:52 PM ET
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