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Posted at 2:37 PM ET, 01/21/2009

An Inaugural Disappointment, for Some

By Gina Acosta

We've received dozens of letters from inaugural celebrants who didn't have much to celebrate after being shut out (or nearly shut out) of the inauguration or parade on Tuesday:


On Inauguration Day morning, we woke up early and joined the masses on the Metro. The camaraderie we had experienced at Sunday's “We Are One” concert was evident -- and then some. One fellow rider dubbed me Joan of Arc for powering my way into the packed train car. Another offered provisions from his personal stash: "Beef jerky?" Later we arrived at the Capitol South Metro station, well before the security gates opened. We finagled our way into the blue ticket line. The camaraderie was still there -- we joked about crowdsurfing to the front, and how disorganized the rival silver ticket line had gotten. And where were those 25,000 police and Army personnel?!

Then 9 a.m. came -- and went. So did 10:30 a.m., and we were still in line. We were starting to get nervous. Was it really possible that people with tickets wouldn’t be admitted? Rumors rippled through the line. The metal detectors had stopped working and bags were being checked by hand. Officials were turning silver ticketholders away. My only consolation came in the form of encouraging text messages from my family. "Keep hope alive!" my Dad reminded me. I hardly exchanged words with my equally frozen friend.

We turned around and snaked back through the barricades at 11:45 a.m, giving up hope of seeing the inauguration in person. Heading back toward the Metro, we had little choice but to watch President Obama's speech on TV at Tortilla Coast -- from the outside looking in, because other blue ticketholders had already packed the Capitol Hill restaurant to capacity. Inspiring text messages continued to flood in, "Don't be down, you got off the couch and tried to do something!" Thanks, Mom.

Later at home, I slept and avoided the TV coverage. My boyfriend and I laughed when even “Pardon the Interruption” opened with a one-minute discussion on the swearing-in. I really do look forward to watching the speech that several family members and friends offered to DVR for me. But I need to wait for the shock to wear off. I'm proud to have gotten off the couch. I just wish things had gone differently. I would've really enjoyed watching a Jumbotron on the Mall with the friendly out-of-towners that complimented my Obama cupcakes.

Jennifer Kushlis
Washington


For thousands and thousands of people holding tickets to the inauguration (including my family), this historic day was marred by the shocking ineptitude of the event organizers. There was no one directing ticketholders to the appropriate line, no one monitoring line-jumpers, no one ushering people through the (silver) security gate, no one checking tickets, no one providing any information whatsoever. We waited in line from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. just to get to our designated area. The only reason we made it inside (barely, at the last minute) was because people in front of us knocked over enough barriers to allow a few thousand through. Even then, the crowding was scary and the sound system was abysmal. For shame.

Laurel W. Glassman
Chevy Chase


The inauguration of Barack Obama was a momentous occasion, but the crowd control at the event left a lot to be desired. While I have no doubt that the security personnel kept the day secure, they did little to keep the large crowds safe and the event accessible.

The advertised paths to cross Pennsylvania Avenue NW were not available, and attendees were given contradictory information about where to go. In several hours of trying to reach the parade route, I saw just one official with a bullhorn providing any information, and signs were almost non-existent. It seemed that there were more police officers driving in lengthy motorcades than protecting and guiding the public.

The few security checkpoints were dangerously crowded with no one keeping order or working to keep thousands of people from being crushed. The empty space along the parade route was evidence enough that security checkpoints were woefully inefficient. With all the weeks of planning and anticipation of the inauguration, federal and city authorities failed to make public accessibility and safety enough of a priority.

Adam P. Fagen
Arlington


Having worked many long hours volunteering for the Obama campaign, I was elated to be given a purple ticket the night before the inauguration ceremony. My wife and I boarded a Metro train at Vienna about 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday. Our high spirits were soon tempered by the reality of poor planning for the large crowds.

We arrived at Judiciary Square Metro station just before 7 a.m., a full 90 minutes after departing Vienna. We excitedly hurried for the purple ticket gate, where we found a line extending down into the I-395 tunnel. We followed the line through the tunnel and out the other side and joined the end of the line. I was astounded! Was it possible that every person in this throng of thousands and thousands had a purple ticket? We waited in the concrete canyon while thousands more walked along I-395 or descended from above to cross I-395 in search of the silver and yellow gates.

About 8 a.m., the line began to move forward. As we entered the tunnel we began to get to know our neighbors and shared stories and food. The tunnel was cold, ugly, dirty and uncomfortable. A foul wind blew from large slotted openings in the walls and icicles dripped from the ceiling. Every few minutes a security vehicle, with its ear-splitting siren screaming, would speed at a reckless pace through the tunnel, scattering people before it. By the time we got to the dim center of the tunnel, we had become friends with three sisters who were all young Army officers, and an Army veteran of two tours in Iraq from Chicago who had worked full-time as a volunteer for months with Veterans for Obama. We grouped for photos and exchanged e-mails. We also carried on worried discussions about the capability of the security teams to process the many thousands of us in the tunnel. We worried that we would still be in the tunnel when the inauguration started.

At 10:30 a.m., with at least a quarter-mile or more left to get to the gate, my wife and I made the decision to abandon the line. We knew it was too late to get a spot on the parade route, so we headed home so that we could at least watch the inauguration on TV. We parted with our new friends, who still had hope. As we exited I-395 and headed for Chinatown, we met other dejected ticketholders on the way to the Metro. They too had abandoned their quest within site of the security checkpoint when the crush of people and near-panic of the crowd frightened them.

These incidents demonstrated gross incompetence or crass indifference on the part of the event planners, and someone should be fired. It was a very dangerous situation in which a panic for any reason could have started a stampede and people could have been killed. Whatever the reasons for this disaster, it really does not matter to my new friend Bobby, the veteran from Chicago; he drove all the way to Washington only to see the inside of a grimy tunnel.


Bill Lahue
Fairfax


My wife, 12-year-old son, and I had tickets for the inauguration. We were among thousands who, after waiting several hours in cold and crowded conditions, were shut out by authorities at an entrance screening checkpoint whose capacity, as designed, could never handle the volume of ticketed attendees – attendees who were instructed in writing to report to particular screening checkpoints for entrance during the particular timeframe.

What makes this debacle so egregious is that no design or computer model exists to support an assertion that the number of invitees could have been processed through respective checkpoints as devised (given number of assigned screeners, etc.). According to reports, 240,000 total tickets were issued. Gates opened from 9 to 11:30 a.m. So the planning required a rate of screening at 96,000 people per hour – that’s 1,600 per minute. Until it is produced, I’ll remain convinced no such plan ever existed.

Officials should be ashamed – and held accountable.

Fred Chesbro
Alexandria


My heart goes out to the ticketholders unable to attend the inauguration, as reported by The Post. I was a yellow parade route ticketholder and I encountered many of the same problems.

I arrived at the security checkpoint 2.5 hours before the parade I stood in line in the right place, but no one was admitted during the two hours that I stood there. The word that trickled back from the 20 or so police officers manning the security checkpoint was that the fire marshal wouldn’t let them admit anyone. But mostly they didn’t know anything. One police officer came through the crowd to join the others at the checkpoint. When I asked him to please broadcast some information to the crowd so we would know what to do, his curt response was: “It doesn’t work that way.” Our lone inaugural usher had disappeared by about 11 a.m.

As the parade was starting I gave up and headed home. I passed the checkpoint for the parade blue ticket area and the contrast was startling. At this checkpoint, about a dozen inaugural “ushers” helped ticketholders, who merely had to show their ticket and they were quickly admitted to the parade area.

I personally spoke to about 25 other yellow ticketholders who were in the same situation. I’m sure there were many more. Following the recommendations of the inaugural committee, we missed the chance to participate in the Mall-based swearing in ceremony because we were advised not to do both. In the new spirit of good governance, we are at least owed an explanation for the poor handling of this process.

Lynn Quincy
Silver Spring


I was among one of the thousands of ticketholders who were turned away from the gates and missed the entire ceremony. I got in line at the purple ticket line at 7 a.m. and waited patiently. Around 10 a.m., when the line had not moved I started feeling impatient and worried that I might not get in. No one would tell us a thing, no announcements, nothing. There was no police presence along the lines, letting people know what was going on. But we remained to the very bitter end. I was less than a block from the purple gate when they told us we would not get in. I was in tears at that point, realizing I was missing one of the most historic moments of my life. I am local, so I did not pay thousands for this wonderful event. But many spent thousands and traveled a great distance to get to Washington and my hearty truly ached as I watched young and old alike sob as we missed this historic event. The D.C. police failed miserably, miserably. A street vendor selling T-shirts out of his car was kind enough to turn up his car radio as hundreds of people milled around listening to President Obama's speech. The inaugural planners owe a lot of disappointed people an apology.

Cindy Montgomery
Arlington


Explanations of the crowds being "rowdy" doesn't begin to cover the situation, and the U.S. Capitol Police failed miserably to help.

Near the Federal Center SW subway stop (at which our Blue line train didn't stop, incidentally), crowds were backed up from the stop to Independence Avenue, with little or no movement for hours. As I approached Independence, I could see that a large crowd of people were on the Capitol side of Independence, but not moving. The police were letting small groups across Independence at one time across from the Silver Gate sign, while other people were dashing across the street with nary a discouraging word from a police officer.

Once across Independence, the crowd still didn't move. It took a while to figure out why. Despite the police insistence that we "hold up our tickets," most of the people on Third Street didn't have tickets. That was their watching spot, and they weren't moving. The police did nothing. I don't begrudge those who wanted to watch the proceedings a spot, but it made it almost impossible for those of us who had tickets to get to where we had to go. We resorted to asking people ahead of us if they had tickets. If they said no, we asked to be let by. Most were willing to do so if they could.

The Jersey barriers were placed across Third Street only made the situation worse as the crowds pushed forward. People couldn't move, had to jump over or find an opening. If the situation got out of control and everyone was let into Silver it wasn't because the crowd was rowdy. It was because the police had no handle on the situation.

Art Brodsky
Olney



While I do want to commend the efforts of those involved with Inauguration Day security, I would differ with assessments that crowd security was a success. The validity of this statement depends on one's perspective.

Despite instructions on the Jumbotrons after the inauguration directing the crowd to exit at 12th and 14th Streets (and inaugural maps indicating that Constitution Avenue and Federal Triangle Metro stations would be open), the crowd discovered as it followed these instructions that the U.S. Secret Service had decided that Constitution Avenue - and its sidewalks on both sides - would be closed to the public for the stretch of the parade from noon until 6 p.m. While I happened to have tickets to the parade that required I enter at 12th and Pennsylvania, there was no permission even for people with parade tickets to cross Constitution. This was not just disappointing and frustrating, but it is something that could easily have been avoided by instructing security officers to check for tickets before letting that small handful of people across.

But far worse than my frustration of being denied access to the parade was the trapping of nearly 2 million people on the Mall. When asked how to get out, the only consistent advice offered was to go to the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station. When people in the crowd observed that this would overwhelm L'Enfant and asked whether there was any way to cross Constitution, I actually witnessed two officers about 10 feet apart pointing in opposite directions as to which way the crowd should go. The ensuing chaos resulted in crowds of people pushing against each other instead of heading together in the same direction.

The total chaos of getting people off of the Mall is no small failure; it demonstrates that despite the lessons of Sept. 11 and the millions of dollars supposedly invested in communication systems and training of our security officers, we are no better at coming up with a clear plan for getting people out of the city.

Our security folks were lucky. Were the crowd to have panicked or had folks become impatient, things could very easily have turned tragic due to the total lack of communication or common sense exercised by the security officers who in general seemed to have zero concern for the welfare of people trying to get home. That, in my opinion, is a serious failure that should be investigated and, hopefully, fixed for the future.


Danielle Fidler
Alexandria

By Gina Acosta  | January 21, 2009; 2:37 PM ET
Categories:  Inauguration  
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Comments

DO NOT LISTEN TO WHAT BARACK OBAMA SAYS, BUT CAREFULLY WATCH WHAT HE DOES !!!

Barack Obama is the greatest liar in history (no wonder he is an excellent lawyer!) During his campaign, he told lots of hope in future for America if he was elected, but now he warns Americans of oncoming darker economy and not to put too much hope in his promises. He promises a big plan to reduce budget deficit but his inauguration ceremony this January will be the most costly in history (50 millions) while the nation is in deep depression, as well as his presidential campaign (600 millions), which was far more than his opponent John McCain's. He swears to clean up Washington DC, but he failed to first clean up his homestate Illinois, one of the most corrupt state with the scandal of Governor Rod Blagojevich, who greatly helped Obama to win his state senate seat in 1996, 1998, and 2002. And his favorite slogan is "Yes, we CAN", yet he himself CANNOT quit smoking at all !!! (Each year about 1.3 million American smokers quit successfully).

Posted by: TIMNGUYEN1 | January 21, 2009 5:50 PM | Report abuse

It would indeed be an incredible [and until 02.19.09 unthinkable] gesture on the part of President Barry to at least make a apologetic public statement and then, privately, go get a whipping switch for whoever dropped the collective ball concerning crowd planning issues.
The military KNOWS better and were most likely stiff armed over jurisdictional crotch grabbing and armband design squabbling.
We are very Very VERY fortunate that there was/were not .a. death[s] marring this great day for our Nation.
Perhaps, in keeping with our new Rock Star president (that's a good thing), a stout modification to tradition for any future events... what is the largest outdoor stadium in the Greater DC area ?

the U.S. for that matter...

wait Wait WAIT ! I've got it:
The Inauguration Tour!!!!! I'm in...
[Secret Service reader passes out :)~ ]

Thank You to all who sent letters... copy your elected toadies and toadettes, please.

Posted by: siddartha999 | January 22, 2009 2:14 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry to hear that some had a bad experience getting in place to see the inauguration. I had a great experience -- no problems.
We were in line at the Shady Grove Metro at 3:30AM, parked close to the elevators on the 2nd level, waiting in a very reasonable line, and we heading out on the train (in seats, not crowded) by 4:05AM. Changing trains at Metro Center was easy, and we hopped the first train to Federal Triangle, then walked down to the Mall. We walked forward to the block between the Natl. Gallery and Air/Space, set up our tarp in front of the Jumbotron and got comfy. There were a ton of portojohns - never had to wait. Getting out afterwards was tougher -- L'Enfant and Fed. Center SW were packed, so we walked to the 3rd St. tunnel, walked over to Judiciary Sq, waited no more than 15 min, got on a not-overcrowded train, and were back at Shady Grove by 3:30. The only thing that would have improved this would have been officers with bullhorns at L'Enfant and Fed Center telling people that they'd have better luck with walking the tunnel -- people were confused and didn't know what to do as they jammed up to the stations.

Posted by: Spiralshell | January 23, 2009 8:37 PM | Report abuse

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