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Congress's Top Security Officer Admits Inaugural Security Breach

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, Congress's top law enforcement official who was in charge of security at President Obama's swearing-in ceremony, now acknowledges the so-called "purple tunnel of doom" on inauguration day was a major security breach.

"I now realize how dangerous it was in that tunnel," he tells the Sleuth.

Gainer called the Sleuth today to say that because of our posting from Friday he agreed to meet today with the co-founders of the Facebook group Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom, the collective group of roughly 5,000 people (though there is no exact count) who had swearing-in tickets to the purple, blue and silver sections on the Capitol grounds but were shut out. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of them were diverted to the Third Street tunnel, which cuts across Capitol Hill and underneath the National Mall, where they were trapped for hours with no police direction or guidance on where to go.

After meeting with the purple tunnel group co-founders, Marisa McNee and Dave Meyer, both Democratic political consultants, hearing their stories firsthand and seeing video clips and photographs of the bottleneck, Gainer said he now understands why the purple ticket holders are so furious.

"I get it," Gainer said. "I understand how frustrated and dangerous it was for people down there. I understand that it wasn't simply inconvenience."

McNee and Meyer originally suggested a Monday meeting with Gainer. But after reading our blog posting Friday afternoon, he told them he'd rather meet sooner, on Saturday.

McNee says the meeting was "very productive" and she feels heartened that Gainer listened to them.

"My sense is that he had not fully understood what had happened and now he does," she said. "I don't think anybody up there [on Capitol Hill] realized."

McNee told Gainer how not just frustrating but dangerous it was for hordes of people to be herded into the 3rd Street tunnel - forever more known as the Purple Tunnel of Doom. She pointed us to this video, which shows police directing the masses of people toward the 2nd and D Streets corner entrance to the tunnel.

Here are two different links to YouTube videos of people in the 3rd Street tunnel singing "Lean on Me" - click here, and here.

There have been no reports of injuries or assaults in the crowd of disgruntled ticket holders. But as Elizabeth Mendenhall, a member of the Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom told us, "In the tunnel someone could have been trampled, particularly after frustration and anger reared their ugly heads."

Gainer tells us he has called another meeting for Monday with officials of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which was in charge of dispersing tickets to the swearing-in ceremony, and chaired by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). McNee and Meyer are also invited to the meeting, he says. The objective is to the get to the bottom of the disaster.

"I was at the 30,000-foot level; I'm now at 10,000 feet," Gainer told us. "I'm just trying to get to the bottom."

By Mary Ann Akers  |  January 24, 2009; 4:25 PM ET
 
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Comments

Mary Ann -- thanks for writing about those of us who didn't get in to the inauguration. I stood w/my two 12-year-old daughters w/o moving for 2 1/2 hours -- we had blue tickets. Also, my niece who worked on the campaign and came in to town was in line at 6 am and didn't get in, as did two cousins in from Connecticut. The stories go on and on. The ridiculous excuses being made make it only worse -- my favorite is that they didn't take into account the winter coats people were wearing and that's why they ran out of space. BTW - reports have it that there was tons of space in the blue and purple areas. Anyway...thanks for writing on this!!!

Posted by: dgillette1 | January 24, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

And what about the hazards of the bottleneck created when tens of thousand of people leaving the Mall were made to converge into two narrow paths to cross 14th Street?

Posted by: pkalina | January 24, 2009 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Is Gainer now acknowledging that this affected far more than 4,000-5,000 people? Your article cites "roughly 5,000 people" - is the Washington Post still using this number because authorities are still sticking to it? Based on my experiences in the purple tunnel and a close reading of others' accounts, I am confident that at least 15,000-20,000 purple ticket holders alone were shut out.

And will you ask the Capitol Police and JCICC how many tickets there were for each section and how many screeners there were for each gate? It's been four days, and I still haven't seen these statistics reported, which would help to inform the assessment of what happened.

Posted by: silspr77 | January 24, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

I'm agreeing with silspr77. I was in the crush at the Purple Gate, and by some miracle managed to make it through the teeny tiny side gate they had opened at 11.55am and get onto the Mall. I can tell you without exaggeration that I left more than five thousand in the street behind me. I would also like to say that security was so disorganized and the crowd so massive and tight that not only was my ticket not checked, not only did I run through a metal detector with hundreds coming up behind me at a jog, not only did I lose my party, but there was little difference between keeping those thousands out and letting them in for all the impact their security stations had.

Posted by: surrealwinter2 | January 24, 2009 6:45 PM | Report abuse

My family and I were directed to the tunnel by police at 6:15am. We walked down the descending slope of the tunnel and well into the level part before finding the end of the line. For the next 4 1/2 hours, the only emergency personnel we saw were in speeding police cars/ambulances/and the occasional fire truck. The line was orderly and against the wall, but of the drivers of the emergency vehicles chose to stay along the same wall, forcing all of us in line to run into the middle of the tunnel to avoid being hit by the police - until these drivers decided to move to their left because the exit to the right was filled with purple ticket holders, which required driving through the line. It was insane. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the overwhelming good will of the crowd prevented the scene from turning very ugly and dangerous.

Posted by: RobertSmith-Berkeley | January 24, 2009 7:20 PM | Report abuse

"And what about the hazards of the bottleneck created when tens of thousand of people leaving the Mall were made to converge into two narrow paths to cross 14th Street?"

SO TRUE! I was stuck in the mess at 14th st. and kept thinking it was a disaster waiting to happen.

Posted by: nsogkgb | January 24, 2009 7:49 PM | Report abuse

Kudos to Marisa and Dave for representing the thousands of us who were shut out of the inauguration. It's about time that those in charge and responsible understand the true magnitude of the situation. If it were just a few people "whining" about it, the issue would have died last week. Although I was only about 100 yards from the gate before 8am when the gates were supposed to open, I never made it in. I ended up having to watch it on Tivo at home.

On a lighter note, anyone interested in Purplegate t-shirts, caps, bags, cups, etc, can order them at http://www.cafepress.com/purplegate2009

Posted by: tadajc | January 24, 2009 9:30 PM | Report abuse

Simple Answer: White House tour for those shut out. Some can't come back from across the country, but these folks deserve more than regrets. A nice touch would be a short message from the pres.

BTW, if there were 250,000 tix, it only takes a minute of math to figure out how long it takes to screen one person and how many screeners you need to process 250,000 in 4 hours. This was a big job - but not a difficult one to measure.

Posted by: SimpleAnswer | January 24, 2009 10:52 PM | Report abuse

The ONLY Reason things went well were THE PEOPLE themselves! Not security which was AWFUL both at the Mall and on the Metro! It was all of you who were patient and joyful and made the best out of dangerous and awful situations. From my son who was stuck in a over crowded train platform to my daughter who was part of the Purple Mess, all of you made the decision to treat each other with kindness and civility!
KUDOS TO ALL OF YOU!

Posted by: suec716 | January 24, 2009 11:16 PM | Report abuse

Mary Ann, I've been going a little nuts as silly excuses and odd tangential explanations come forth from officials on this story. Thanks for doing such a good job pulling it all together...but please keep their feet to the fire! Everything that happened could have been anticipated. It's becoming pretty obvious that the people who planned the controlled/gated areas of the event didn't know what they were doing or were over-ridden by people who didn't. No authoritative on-site management, no communication capabilities for directing/re-directing a crowd of that size, no flow control from the initial entry points to the site, zero signage of value, no overflow areas, no contingency plan if everyone with a ticket showed up. Who are these people? I just co-produced a little event in Philly with 2 Mil. roudy people right before the election...one of the biggest events in the city's history and no major crises...it can be done if you have a scale ground plan and know how to run an event!

As rumors spread on Tuesday -- apparently from an unintelligible cop with a bullhorn a few thousand people away -- that they wanted us in the tunnel, we walked the opposite direction. The main purple gate was two blocks straight ahead but they wanted us in a tunnel that went under the Capitol...smelled like a cluster waiting to happen. When the best answer is to ignore the authorities, something is very wrong. I feel for the DCPD cops on the street, they were clearly at the mercy of some really awful planning. Now those really awful planners are going to get together and find out WHAT happened at their hands...but will they understand WHY? A good first step for the future is to not let them be in charge again...

Posted by: DC_Progress | January 24, 2009 11:19 PM | Report abuse

My son and I were in line at 1st and D streets in the first video w/ the policeman w/ the bullhorn and although we heard the siren, we never heard the announcement. We were all literally packed in like a can of sardines. Someone passed out (I later heard that someone had a stroke, but it has not been verified) and the ambulance could not get through because no one could move. Also, every officer that we approached (with the exception of the officer with the Department of Justice) had no idea of what was going on. We were sent up and down Constitution Ave. twice. This was poor planning at its finest. We were very fortunate that no one was trampled to death.

Posted by: jude13 | January 24, 2009 11:46 PM | Report abuse

Many of the Blue and Purple People traveled from the west coast. I know there was a couple from my home town, Santa Cruz. Ca who worked on the campaign and traveled to D.C. to witness their hero being sworn in. Because of the People's Inauguration, they had to listen on the radio. Good thing that the planners of this event weren't held liable for a trampling or more. This is ridiculous, but to read about it, all was harmoniously humming along all throughout the hours of inauguration day with love enough for all. Now the truth comes out. "They" are in charge and it really isn't the heady lovefest it was painted and patched up to me by the left invested media. Too bad and a terrible experience for all of the Blue and Purple "ticket holder" people. Reality -- it's not just in your head, in this case it's what the press fed to the public. These people will have to live with their disillusionment b/c the story of their mistreatment by the Obama camp will be buried.

Posted by: surfbum | January 24, 2009 11:52 PM | Report abuse

Great work Mary Ann -- thanks.

We have heard nothing in the media about the similar disaster that took place on 7th Street NW between C and E -- thousands of people pressed together so close that they could not move, no information, no water, no bathrooms, no police presence... a stampede waiting to happen. We too never made it inside. The crowd included Blue, Silver, and Red ticket holders, people who had paid to view the parade from the Newseum, and just regular folks.

At one point the police drove two charter buses of VIPs through this packed-to-capacity crowd, making a dangerous situation far worse as people were crushed against the walls of buildings lining the street.

This is in no way meant to minimize the suffering of the Purple Tunnel people -- we just don't want the story to be restricted to just ONE collapse of security when there were MANY such locations.

Glen

Posted by: gleng1 | January 24, 2009 11:56 PM | Report abuse

Gainer should resign or be fired now!
This man put us all in danger!
He is the same man that said we did not get in because of heave winter coats this fool must go!

Posted by: gjspa2 | January 24, 2009 11:57 PM | Report abuse

People, people. Read the article carefully again. I feel for all of you who were trapped in the tunnel, but the 5000 number is in reference to how many members joined the Facebook Group, not how many were actually trapped at the event.

"Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom, the COLLECTIVE GROUP OF ROUGHLY 5000 people".

Posted by: liquid_r1 | January 25, 2009 12:21 AM | Report abuse

here's the retaliation update, inside federal criminal behavior that sprung up with Bush:
the federal govdernment's response to my recent petitioning/complaint, apparently, to kill an animal (possum) out on the street, very bloody and all over the road, next to a message, 'F you.' physically attacking me afterward, energy weaponry aimed at my head.

Glen Broemer

PS Note my 9th Circuit Appellate Brief, online.

Posted by: e9999999 | January 25, 2009 12:37 AM | Report abuse

I was on 7th St with Glen and can confirm his account of events. I purchased 4 tickets for bleacher seats at the parade. When I arrived at 6 a.m., the crowd stretched up 7th St to the Starbucks at E St.

Glen's description is exactly right. As the police sought to move two buses into the crowd, there was no where for people to go. It's a wonder that when the crowd broke through the security line that no one was trampled. I personally thought a motorcycle cop was intent on running over my feet as he drove through the crowd.

I ended up waiting until 10:30 before going to another gate. That's when a police officer announced that the 7th St gate was never going to open because of a water main break at the Archives station.

At no point did any law enforcement officer announce to the approximately 9,000 people gathered that the gate would not open.

We all waited for nothing. (My wait at 2 other gates lasted until 11:30)

I ended up going to two more gates before trudging back to my friend's house on Capitol Hill to watch the ceremony on TV.

My attempts to get in contact with the PIC to seek a refund have been unsuccessful. I am now in contact with Visa to see if a hold can be put on my credit card.

Frankly, there is nothing that Terry Gainer, Diane Feinstein can do beyond apologize and take responsibility. My hope is that Sen. Feinstein and Sen. Bennett will hold a hearing after they receive the report requested of the Secret Service and Capitol Police. Steps must be taken to ensure this situation doesn't occur again. Only then -- once the after action review is completed -- can law enforcement improved their process for future events.

I came to the Inauguration to witness history. Sadly, because of the failure of organizers, I was denied that opportunity.

Perhaps Sen. Feinstein would be willing to reserve tickets for the 2013 swearing ceremony for me and the thousands of people shut out of witnessing the moment of seeing our country's first African American president get inaugurated.

Posted by: write55 | January 25, 2009 1:02 AM | Report abuse

to all the whining purple ticket holders:

no one was hurt and no one was arrested and the forty-fourth is anointed. it is the actions of individuals that undermine or uphold law and order.

Posted by: egalitaire | January 25, 2009 2:24 AM | Report abuse

You know, at least there is a serious examination by the government in how it failed to do the job it was supposed to. One cannot redo the day that was ruined for many, but after eight years of criminal indifference, this genuine examination of what went wrong is refreshing.

Posted by: normanx | January 25, 2009 3:58 AM | Report abuse

Gainer is just a screwup. He screwed up as assistant DC police chief, as US Capitol poiice chief, and as Sargent at Arms.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | January 25, 2009 4:16 AM | Report abuse

I was not there but I know several people who were. Almost to a person, they sum up their ordeal in the same way, incredible heart wrenching disappointment at having missed President Obama's swearing in and his Inaugural Address. The freezing conditions in the jam packed tunnel with no place to go to the bathroom was bad but missing the event many had waited a lifetime to witness was and is an unbearable blow. President Obama can make this right and knowing him, he will. My suggestion, bring those five thousand-plus ticket holders to Verizon Center where President Obama can give them their very own shortened version of his address. If he could repeat the oath, he can surely find 30 minutes to turn the worst day in these individuals lives into one they will never forget. The good will generated from the move will more than pay for itself.

Posted by: dem4life1 | January 25, 2009 6:06 AM | Report abuse

I surely hope the White House is following this story closely and will do something for these people. The class and good will would be fabulous. These people deserve something from President Obama.

Posted by: mdargo | January 25, 2009 6:46 AM | Report abuse

For those who think this is a frivolous exercise,if someone in the crowd had yelled "FIRE!" or if a rumor of a bomb or terrorist attack was started, they would STILL be pulling bodies out!

The anticipation was 4 million people, so why couldn't they handle 2 million?

Heads must roll!

Posted by: pablo1 | January 25, 2009 8:10 AM | Report abuse

When will some news organization report on and respond to the fact that people holding parade bleacher tickets were denied entry to the bleachers on the parade route?

I felt I had won the lottery when I was able to purchase two tickets to parade bleachers from TicketMaster for $25 each.

We drove from Ohio; spent $2000 on a hotel room; got up at 4:30 AM and witnessed NEITHER the swearing in ceremony or the inaugural parade that we PAID for.

Where are our stories?

I have tried calling the PIC and the AFIC --- the organizations responsible for the parade --- and I have had zero luck getting a response.

The congressional joint committee says it's not there fault, of course.

Are we completely without recourse?

Posted by: john_e_haag | January 25, 2009 9:04 AM | Report abuse

I have read every comment on this blog and they each seem to have something to add that is helpful.
I would add (as a trauma psychotherapist) from the reading, and from earlier articles, that nothing any politician SAYS will completely help in these grievous errors.

People who have been tortured in these ways (held captive for many hours without bathroom and without explanation, no room to move, STANDING room only, prevention from witnessing one of the greatest moments in American history for which many had crossed the country) deserve something tangible to be made whole. I suggest sending each of them who had tickets a DVD of the Inauguration, PLUS: a CD with apologies from Barack Obama and Diane Feinstein and the head of security, Gainer on it. Plus a letter with a transcription of what they said on the CD.

Sincere apologies go a long way in real losses. Insincere, made-up excuses just make people madder. As a body-informed psychotherapist I would add that such real, tangible items and apologies would also prevent the subsequent, also real, stresses which tend to take a toll on one's body and mind for a long time to come. A lot of people were disappointed; a lot of people will feel they were made fools of -- what can they tell their friends back home? what can they tell their descendants? (I have told my grandchildren that they are the descendants of a great-great-great grandmother who, as a 6-year old, SAW Lincoln -- as a means to connect them with history and so that history won't be something cold and distant. These stories last forever and are important.)

Barack Obama should have adressed this by now and should do so without delay. Diane Feinstein should, finally/finally, address it as if it matters, not with brush-offs such as with an announcement that each ticketed person will be 'sent a color brochure' of the Inauguration, period.

If it is not addressed immediately, with tangible, sincere apologies from all three who can be seen to be held accountable, and anyone else found not doing their job, AND something one can hold in their hand from the Inauguration which is not given to the people who DID get in, Obama will have tentatively lost many many sincere workers for his next election and this terrible story will resonate for generations.

Posted by: thinker10 | January 25, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse

"Gainer is just a screwup. He screwed up as assistant DC police chief, as US Capitol poiice chief, and as Sargent at Arms.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | January 25, 2009 4:16 AM"

I have to agree with Bitter Bill. Gainer was a poor Asst. DC Police Chief, and did not do a good job as Chief of the Capitol Police. Remember the female Asst. Capitol Police Chief who was fired, because she said the police force was unprepared? Gainer was the Chief then and supported her firing. Remember the DC protesters who were spied on simply because they were members of a protest group? Gainer was deeply involved in that. He is a sycophant who keeps getting these very important jobs.

Posted by: runawaytexan | January 25, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse

I was in the purple line and got in. I hit Louisiana st 9:45. By 11am I was through security. I came from Union Station and had planned my route to avoid the metro station. There was a big banner stretched across Louisiana that said purple gate. Our line was, obviously, much smaller than the one on the other side of the fence from me - which apparently was the front of the dreaded tunnel line. As I got through the gates and into the security line I heard the other line chant - let us in! I have to say, that if someone had told me to line up in a tunnel, I would have found another option. Sometimes people seem unable to think for themselves. If there were no security people there, wouldn't you leave? At least in my line we kept hearing a security person yelling, purple tickets only, so we knew something was happening. As we shuffled forward, a few steps every 5-10 minutes, we saw progress. Otherwise, I was ready to hit the jumbotron area of the mall. I feel bad for all those who were shut out. But some purple people did get in.

Posted by: camdenprof | January 25, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I sent a formal complaint to my Senator Kay Hagan (NC). She is an amazing person who will most definitely follow through. She speaks and truly represents ALL of Tarheel residents and more importantly, is concerned with humanity in general.

I am a 60 year old Asian American with an arthritic hip. My girl-friend is 59 also with arthritis. Collectively, we must weigh less than 200 lbs dripping wet.

I have been an active protester - all the way back to the protest against the Vietnam war in DC in the early 1970s.

The inauguration was the most dangerous event I have been to. There was absolutely next to no crowd control. The National Guard was from out of town, so were many of the police. The locals who were volunteers had no idea where or what they were doing. They could not give directions and had no idea where to send anyone.

There was a point in time I actually thought we would be trampled to death. We were literally unable to move for 3 hours. At several points in time, my feet were not touching the ground because the crowd was squeezing me upwards.

No one came to clear the crowd. An elderly AA woman passed out. She had diabetes, hypertension and could not walk
without a walker. I managed to get to her to help her, but almost got trampled in the process. Then I was accused by a man of taking advantage of the situation to move forward in the crowd!! This after people were calling for a doctor and no one responded but me (I am a Nurse Practitioner).

An 11 year old girl fainted. Again I had to struggle to get to her to help her. She was stepped on several times. Her
mother could not get to her as the crowd had separated them. I had to become ugly in order to get to the girl.

There seemed to be no training for the volunteers or police. There was one polcie officer who came by with a bullhorn who had no idea that only the people directly in front of the bullhorn can
hear what is being projected. So she would say 2 words in each direction thus ensuring that no one received the entire message she was attempting to impart.

Having said all of the above, we did get in at 11:15 only to find a vast EMPTY SPACE!! We were in line at 7:45 am. At 11:45 a sudden influx of people entered. I discovered today that it was because the fence was breached. So then we were once again engulfed in a crowd that pushed and shoved us to the point were we could no longer see.

What should have been the most joyous experience of my life devolved into one of tears of frustration and fear.

Posted by: profgliem | January 25, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Reply to camdenprof - I am so glad you managed to get in. However, I would ask you to exhibit a little more compassion for those of us who did not.

I found out later that the best signage was from Union Station. Other than that, there was absolutely NO visible sign anwywhere else in the capitol. Nor was there any visible police force that helped direct us. Seems that you had to somehow find the correct line before there was any order. Of course, finding that line is the trick.

We are told to listen to those in charge. The police, the volunteers. We who are strangers to DC, who travelled long distances and spent fortunes count on the organizers.

Your recounting of how your line moved smoothly does nothing to assuage the frustration of those of us who were not in that line, who were told to go in the opposite direction i order to find that line, or who were literally unable to move due to being crushed by the crowd.

Those of us who experienced anger, frustration and yes, FEAR do not appreciate what appears to be gloating on your part that you got in and we did not.

Posted by: profgliem | January 25, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

I'd like to second everyone who pointed out that it was the good faith & generosity of the PUBLIC, the attendees, that prevented more injuries & disasters, not the Secret Service, the DC police, or anyone officially involved. I was in line at 7th St. from 6:00 AM until I finally got through security at about 2:00 pm (yes, eight hours), and hardly saw a cop or any security folks after the dread Naval Bus Event in the morning. Unless you count the cops-- or whoever they were-- watching from their perch a few floors above a copy shop while they cosily munched on their breakfast as the crowd froze. In all those hours in line, neither I nor the people around me ever heard about a watermain break, ever heard why two buses were sent through an overpacked crowd of thousands of people, never heard that the pedestrian crossings to get to the Mall were closed/never opened, were never told anything about our situation. Had the good folks in line not helped each other & behaved (mostly) on their own, this would have been even more of a nightmare. I expected a long wait. I did not expect 8 hours without a bathroom, 11 hours without a place to warm-up, NO COMMUNICATION AT ALL from authorities changes in logistics, no crowd control at all, being crushed by vehicles then by people who left watching the Inauguration on the Mall then jumped the barricade and shoved to the front of the line IN FRONT OF SECURITY OFFICERS at the gate to the security screeners.

However, none of this captures my shock when, days after the event, I figured out that the reported "Police barricade rushed by crowd" stories actually referred to those of us on 7th Street! We did not rush the barricade-- we were shoved across it by the Navy buses and the 3-wheeler cop who pushed the crowd to the sides and the front of the path to the security gate with absolutely no regard for anyone's safety. Why in the world were buses sent into this crowd? That is the singularly stupidest decision I've ever seen enacted. Does anyone know what happened?

However, I'd like to congratulate the officers, and the crowd members who helped them, who safely got the 2 people I know of to ambulances when they needed help. I'd like to thank The Guy On Top Of The Van for keeping the crowd laughing and was the first person to let us know just how understaffed the security tent was, and to thank all the folks who shared their radios, phones, mini TVs, and so on so we could listen to the oath and the address, and I'm still glad I went & stuck it out in line. Thanks to all my "instant friends" from DC and Florida and Hawaii and everywhere who kept my spirits up in line; I hope I helped you at least half as much as you helped me

Still, airport security is better staffed.

Posted by: bibliotequetress | January 25, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

What is so frustrating about this is that the big shots with Orange tickets were ESCORTED to their seats.

Once again the grassroots got screwed while those who just wrote the checks traipsed on by.

Posted by: denamom | January 25, 2009 10:26 AM | Report abuse

EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM. JUST BLAME GEORGE W. EASIER THAN ADMITTING YOU WERE LATE.

Posted by: godblessedtheUSA | January 25, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

DENAMOM, SO MUCH FOR "CHANGE"

Posted by: godblessedtheUSA | January 25, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Thank you so much for following this story. We were blue ticket holders and while it wasn't as dangerous as in the tunnel, it was also dangerous. I had to take my daughter out of the line because all that was in front of me was a 20 foot high security gate, and behind me was thousands of people who were realizing they weren't going to get in.

The only reason nobody was hurt because of Barack Obama's amazing leadership. I kept saying to myself the line that we all chanted when I was working in a campaign office, "What would Barack do?"...I think everyone in that line tried to be as unflappable as him, and that was the only line of defense.

We need answers and to be absolutely sure, this never happens again.

Posted by: ThinkGreen | January 25, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Well, my daughter and I managed to squeeze through the Purple Gate at 11:15 AM. We went briefly down 2nd St at around 8 AM, but ditched it when it clogged up near Louisiana Ave. We continued down New Jersey Ave and located the Purple Gate, not yet opened. We got in line down the fenceline directly across from the metal detectors and waited. After over two hours, and moving approx. 50 ft. we ditched that and got up in the throng in front of the Gate itself. That worked. How those poor people ended up in a tunnel two blocks away for 5 hours I'll never understand. The security and organization were not just lacking, they were nonexistent! How many thousands of people had to go through a 25' gate in a matter of a few hours?

Really, guys?

This was pathetic!

Posted by: StewPie | January 25, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

I was not in the tunnel and I am sorry for all those who were trapped, but I wanted to share my inauguration day story. After the ceremonies we tried to exit the mall via 17th street. Thousands of us walking parallel to the Constitution Ave side of the Washington Monument grounds were heading toward Constitution and 17th only to be trapped by port potties and chain link fences – we were not aware of why the crowd was not moving because we could not see the barriers in the distance. The crush continued to grow as more people found themselves stopped without directions or explanation. It was wall to wall people, everyone smushed together and moving slowly like a current in a stream. Our party of six was separated and there was no way to reunite in the crowd as we grew further and further apart. More and more people were backing up behind us and trying to move forward. The crowd was absolutely polite and patient, even without direction. If not for a few adventures individuals, who climbed the row of port potties with their backs to Constitution, we still might be there trying to exit. These individuals could see the barriers confronting us in the distance. They began to shout “Go left, go left!” The crowd followed chanting, “Go left!” Slowly we began to move as the current of humanity began to flow toward the left until we finally made it to 17th. There was a small backup there as people had to jump concrete barriers but nothing like the log jam on the Washington Monument grounds. It could have been a dangerous situation if it were not for the goodwill of all the revelers. There was not anyone of official authority to be found anywhere in that vicinity.

Posted by: rgmwdc | January 25, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Maybe we should start a "Fire Gainer" Facebook page?

People must be accountable to the People.

Posted by: thrasher1 | January 25, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer and his top deputies should be fired quickly with no excuses. The offense is the typical incompetence and arrogance that seems to characterize security bosses all over the world. Maybe a clear signal will get their attention.

Posted by: dasumner | January 25, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Fire Gainer. He is, has been, and always will be an incompetent stooge. I won't reiterate my complaints regarding this former Charles Ramsey (failed, former, incompetent Chief of the DCMPD)stooge but I will repeat this. This was about disapppointment and inconvenience, what if it had been about life and death. This clown is in charge if something truly momentous threatens the Hill? Thats the question the elitist Feinstein and her henchmen should be asking themselves. She was obviously more concerned with etched crystal bowls then with thousands of citizens in harms way due the incompetence of her administrators.

Posted by: JEGrim | January 25, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

For anyone who arrived after 5:30 a.m. and who got into the purple gate, please be assured that you were a line jumper, whether you were aware of it or not. My brother and my 13 year old daughter arrived at 5:30 a.m. and were directed into the tunnel where they stood for the next 5-1/2 hours before finally emerging into the sunlight. They moved approximately two blocks in those 5-1/2 hours. There was no security - none. There were a few uniformed officers who stood with their backs to the crowd and responded to nothing, nor did they take the matter up the chain of command. Sad.

Posted by: Annie22203 | January 25, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I want to add some info about problems we encountered in areas far from the Tunnel fiasco. We did not have tickets and we did successfully get onto the mall, near a jumbotron, way down by the Lincoln Memorial, so I know we are lucky. The overall management of crowds was incompetent. We saw absolutely no one managing or directing traffic flow, there were no signs and the few people in authority that we saw were ignoring the crowd, or had no information. There appeared to be no communication or coordination between people who were supposed to be in charge and there were no attempts to direct the flow of people.

We had planned to get off the Metro at L'Enfant Plaza but the train conductor announced that it was closed because it was too crowded, so we had to get off at Gallery Place. Why did L'Enfant get so crowded? The Boston Globe reported that the exit gates at L'Enfant were locked!! Why on earth did this happen? Why would exit gates ever be locked, and why on this day when so many people would clearly be arriving there did this happen? And why weren't they immediately unlocked?

A few blocks away from Gallery Place, we got stuck in a big crowd somewhere in the vicinity of 7th and D NW (we're from out of town, unfamiliar with the area so I'm not certain where we were). Eventually we realized the blockage was caused by a long line to check in through security (to get on the parade route, I think). Fortunately we got out of that crowd, in part because someone in the crowd knew we should head west. We eventually encountered a volunteer who gave us good directions about which way to walk. We had to back track north for several blocks and walk all the way around the White House to get onto the mall. Whatever happened to the ‘Pedestrian Crossovers’ that were shown on the Washington Post map? Did they even exist?

When we finally reached the mall at the base of 19th street, another volunteer advised us that the area east of the Washington Monument was really crowded and our best bet to see a jumbotron was down at the Lincoln Memorial end. This was around 10:15 am, I think.

We also encountered the confusion getting off the mall after the ceremony, when the Jumbotrons had misleading instructions, directing people to 14th street which turned out to be completely blocked.

As others have said, the overwhelmingly positive mood of the crowd is the only reason that there were no ugly scenes. The potential for disaster was so high in some many places and the planning and management of crowd flow appeared to be actively and utterly incompetent.

Posted by: grotonpines | January 25, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

The Nation's Capital will celebrate the effective, efficient security measures during the recent Inauguration festivities at the National Bollard Festival.

See http://notionscapital.wordpress.com/2009/01/25/celebrate-inaugural-security/

Posted by: MikeLicht | January 25, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

After coming off the MARC train at Union Station and heading for the entry for Silver ticket holders I initially followed the signs to the various gate colors and found myself trapped at the gate area for the blue tickets north of the mall. No sign or indication where silver ticket holders should go, just barriers everywhere. I then headed for the 3rd Street tunnel to get to the south side. I arrived on 3rd St near the Silver gate at 10am(placed where MD Ave and 3rd intersect)after I had traversed the 3rd St tunnel. The block south of the gate was a complete mess where folks lining up for the silver and the blue gates collided with those that tried to back out of this section because they had no tickets. Buses placed as barriers across the street as well as Jersey barriers and fences made things worse. It was extremely tight when folks started getting angry right before the ceremonies began and nothing moved at all. Then the Silver Gate was rushed and thousands streamed in while frantic officers tried to move the metal barriers out of the way of the running people. There was plenty of room on the Mall when I entered it at 11:20. Reading all the stories about people being kept out I feel very lucky that I found a spot on the Mall right in time. The wayfinding system, the few out of town not knowing anything officers and the crowd management was really bad. However, the people were great. It could have been catastrophic they way thousands were hemmed in.

Posted by: Klaus1 | January 25, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

godblessedtheUSA wrote:

EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM. JUST BLAME GEORGE W. EASIER THAN ADMITTING YOU WERE LATE.

Posted by: godblessedtheUSA | January 25, 2009 11:02 AM

-------

In many cases, these people DID come many hours early. They were early worms. They waited in place for hours until the (much too late) opening of the gates. They did nothing wrong. In fact, they did everything right by staying positive, which avoided a tragic outcome. They are the heroes of this story.

We can rejoice in a wonderful event that went well for over a million people, including me, without prejudging the tens of thousands for whom it went very wrong. Blaming the victims is a cheap answer.

Working hard to find out the truth about what went wrong and fixing it for the future (for future events) is a serious matter of public safety. This lack of safety was VERY unusual for a big event in DC and it cannot be allowed to happen again.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | January 25, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Now we're getting some better reporting, but PLEASE stop saying "5,000" people were shut out, or in the Tunnel. It was WAAAAAYYYY more than that!! Somebody please do the math! Until we find out exactly how many tickets were issued. Can somebody use a crowd estimate formula of some sort to get a more accurate estimate of the people in the tunnel (that should be easy to do for a mathmetician) and that wouldn't even account for all the mass of people on the outside of both ends of the tunnel with purple tickets. Let's not forget the Blue and Silvers, either. Let's get some numbers that are a little closer to REALITY!

KEEP DIGGING Mary Anne!

Posted by: captandyhunt | January 25, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

I wish people would give scrutiny to more than just the purple ticket situation. There were many dangerous situations both before and after the swearing in between 12th and 18th streets. The problems were much the same -- overcrowding of people, no police, misinformation, too many barriers, etc. The story is much bigger than the ticketed people who missed the swearing-in.

Posted by: MitchellPolman | January 25, 2009 5:51 PM | Report abuse

For your info camdenprof People who arrived much earlier than you were greeted with a different scenario. I talked much earlier in the day to a security guard at the very gate you entered, at that time there was a secound barrier separating the gate from the line which ran in the direction of the tunnel. I was direccted towards the end of the line, which my daughter and I preceded to do. Sometime between when we passed there and hours later this barrier disapeared to literally let thousands of people coming from all directions to enter the gate ahead of the thousands who waited patiently in line. Your plan only worked because of the failure of security to maitain their origanal plan. My daughter and I made it to within thirty feet of the gate before they shut it down, had we known of the breakdown we might have been able to make our way around and slide in like thousands of others.

Posted by: jgreen51 | January 25, 2009 6:55 PM | Report abuse

I feel like the people in charge of planning and security are the world's biggest nimrods whose collective IQ matches that of a box of rocks.
I was in the Purple line on 1st stuck for hours and eventually my sister and I walked down and stood on the wrong side of the fence where we heard some echoes. There was a fancy party in the atrium of the building behind us and all those people saw more than we did because of their TVs.
DC has major events with huge crowds all the time. The estimated crowd was 3 million for two months! And yet somehow the people in charge couldn't figure it out in all that time? How do you possibly explain that other than sheer stupidity and oversight. When we were walking home down 1st there were national guardsmen every 2 blocks or so guarding totally empty streets. Why?
I am pretty sure there is little they can do to 'compensate' but I would at the very least like a good explanation for how this happened. Remember these are the same people who are theoritically in charge in case of a massive emergency . . . gives one pause doesn't it.

Posted by: sfskin | January 25, 2009 7:53 PM | Report abuse

Luckily I wasn't caught in the tunnel, but the more I read and the more I see from pictures and videos, the more I'm convinced that people need to lose their jobs over this mess. People could have been seriously injured or killed. There needs to be an internal investigation into that police officer ordering people into the tunnel. If he was operating on his own, he should be fired. If he was ordered to instruct people into the tunnel, his boss should be fired. SOMEONE needs to be held accountable!

Posted by: dsk097 | January 25, 2009 8:05 PM | Report abuse

don't forget the silver ticket holders, there were so many people I couldn't breath . and there was lots of room in the silver area but we weren't allowed in.
no police, just lots of people.

Posted by: lgb2931 | January 25, 2009 10:28 PM | Report abuse

To Mr. "godblessedamerica", please ask God to teach you the lesson about "judging others", especially when you are totally unaware that for the most part,it was those who were there the earliest who got stuck!!!Personally,my family of four woke up at 3am, got to Shady Grove Metro at 4am, got to 7th Street by 5am...waited in the same spot until 10:30 am because we were there so early...we could not turn around (thousands behind us). The line finally bottlenecked into the security checkpoint (after nearly losing an arm and two kids at the bottleneck). Prior to that there were no portapotties insight, people fainting. There were plenty of police officers staring at us from a third floor building (they were taking pictures of us and eating breakfast and later lunch!!!)Some guys from Detroit told me they had been waiting on 7th Street since 3am.(How early is early enough?) So it appears to me after reading all the blogs that those who got there later actually were the fortunate ones (able to go around the chaos and get a spot on the mall or go home) Unfortunately, because we were EARLY, that was not the case for us.I just can't stand it when someone who has not experienced what others have, choose to sit in self-righteous condemnation. You may as well had joined the "puffy coat theory". In reality, the problem was due to lack of signage and communication amongst all the law enforcement/national guard and whoever this Gainer guy is who was supposed to head them all up. I appreciate the fact that he has taken the time to look into it more, so next time no one will get hurt or worse killed. I truly believed that God blessed the whole day and situations that no one was killed, but don't tempt him. Let them admit and learn from their mistakes because many people went through a lot of sacrifice to see this day!!! I would not dare want anyone to trouble President Obama with this mess, seeing as though he has SO MANY MESSES to clean up already. He owes us nothing!!!I would like for those in charge of security to research it and fix it for next time. Perfection is not expected, but to one's best IS!!!Lack of Signage and Communication was not THEIR best. I would be willing to come from Atlanta again and get on a committee if need be. I thank all of you who were patient and kind through it all!!!I love you all!!!

Posted by: reneeinchrist2002 | January 25, 2009 11:09 PM | Report abuse

My wife and I were Yellow ticket holders, and while we got in, the experience was chaotic, completely unmanaged, and very dangerous - we were part of a crush of people who were repeatedly forced past obstacles - and to boot the security while entering the Capitol grounds was leaky as a colander (I accidentally walked through the metal detector with binoculars over my shoulder, picked up my other metal objects and was waved on my way) - the investigation needs to go much further than the 'purple tunnel'.

Posted by: marcdanz | January 26, 2009 12:04 AM | Report abuse

The D.C. police department and chief responsible for crowd logistics should be FIRED. FIRED! It was a miracle that tragedies all over the Mall didn't happen and tarnish that day with scandal.

I was a Silver Ticket holder and I can say I never saw such police stupidity in my life! They actually created crises and then walked away as if they were in a stupor.

I arrived at the crack of dawn, endured police-created trauma, and decided to leave hours before the ceremony to avoid a worse fate. I was SO SMART!!!!

Not only were the police criminally inept, once I got to the "Gate" no one asked to see my ticket!

What a stupid mess!

Posted by: jpmar | January 26, 2009 12:34 AM | Report abuse

The situation involving silver ticket holders has received almost no mention. There were thousands of us stranded in a bottleneck on 3rd St. SW. It seems that gate was completely shut down and no one was being processed through at all. Why did they close the gate? And certainly they should have used a bullhorn to tell us to give up and try to find a jumbotron somewhere on the Mall. Instead, they left a HUGE crowd waiting for nothing.
What REALLY makes no sense is that the Silver gate was completely abandoned at about 11:15 a.m., so a huge crowd rushed into and filled 3rd Street. Then, the crowd stormed over the barricades (it is amazing that no one was trampled) and into the reflecting pool area at the foot of the Capitol. So, the security went from being so tight that ticket-holders could not enter, to instead a state of anarchy with thousands rushing into a secured area with no screening at all.
Gainer still has not admitted the full extent of the incompetence. Someone should be held to account.

Posted by: JoeOnTheHill | January 26, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

The event was a huge, unprecented undertaking. However, the purple ticket line had little or no "policing". It was chaos waiting to happen. It's a miracle no one was hurt, or a riot did not erupt.
In 4 1/2 hours in the line (which was not easy to find), I never saw volunteers, the police, or any other authority figures (except an ambulance).

When I arrived at 7 a.m. I immediately knew there were too many people in line for the purple area (which I checked out on Sunday prior to the inauguration), and I never even saw the crowds in 3rd street tunnel! What were they thinking in assuming so few people would use the tickets for Obama's inauguration? Way too many tickets were distributed!

I reached the narrow gate (by a sequence of events I'll skip) at about 11:35. I thought I was going to pass out because I could not breathe - people were pushing so hard from behind. My friend's feet were literally lifted off the ground by the pushing. Until that point, I had remained calm (though quite put out).

I feel so bad for the older people who saw their dream of watching the ceremony just fizzle. And for people who came from great distances.

Once inside, I was not able to see anything (I'm short - but I tried!) or hear too well (but my hearing is excellent). When the cannons fired, I knew I had missed hearing the oath. So getting in didn't necessarily mean witnessing the ceremony. However, it did mean I could breathe. I watched the event on cable that night.

My sympathies to those who were locked out. I looked back and took a photo of the crowds outside the fence line, shaking my head.
Please assume a large turnout in four years if Obama is re-elected. And give (better) tickets to the people who could not get in this time.

Posted by: YanaLynn | January 26, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Hi, Y'all,
I was in the purple line on 1st street, traveling on the Takoma metro at 4:45 am. We were in line on 1st street at 5:15 am and we moved about a half a block in 5 hours. NONE OF US knew why the line was so slow. All of us in my "neighborhood" (a ten foot diameter group of folks who hung together dutifully)just assumed that the gates weren't opening until 10:00 (or 8?, 9?) and that security was just taking a long time to clear everyone. WE WERE PATIENT, CALM, PROUD, GOOD-SPIRITED, FRIENDLY AND HOPEFUL. It was SO COLD and we were all trying to be SO GOOD.
Finally, movement started to happen slowly. Somehow, even though there was a convergence of many ticket colors as well as folks without tickets, my area began to reach the gate area. By then, the time was about 11:15. My sister, a resident who had NOTHING GOOD TO SAY ABOUT THE DC POLICE, was furious at the negligence of the "planning" process. She proclaimed that we would NOT GET IN unless we moved out of our trap. Indeed, we quietly did move out to the side and down, about forty feet, so that we were about 30 feet from the only gate open at 1st ST NW. The last section in which we stood was a crushing crowd, the only time I was truly nervous since the early morning. Yet, we were so close to the gate that I was also resolved that we would get through. The feeling we carried was one of SURVIVAL.....we'd come this far, we weren't going to miss the ceremony. We DID feel terrible that we were jumping the line, we DID feel terrible for the thousands on 1st St and elsewhere. But we had to get in!! Even after we got through security, we still had to climb over a stone wall to get into the Lots-of-standing-room-Purple Area.
Later, I was horrified to hear of the Tunnel Crowd......So SAD. The Olympic committee or Super Bowl organizers should have handled this event. The lack of corridors in the streets which could have "snaked" the crowds, lack of signage, lack of personnel giving people the respect that we all deserved. We ALL FOLLOWED THE RULES!! WHO LET THE DUTIFUL DOWN??

Posted by: beeline2 | January 26, 2009 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Good job Brownie......OOPS!! WRONG DISASTER!

Posted by: sour-puss | January 27, 2009 4:04 AM | Report abuse

this guy is a Goverment terrorist

Posted by: MilfordD | January 27, 2009 5:58 AM | Report abuse

Screw-ups of this magnitude are deserving of people losing their jobs...start with Gainer and Chief Morse...nothing less is acceptable....

Posted by: vinnie777 | January 27, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

My daughter and I were attempting to find out what route to take from Capitol Hill, since previous information indicated what streets will be closed, us together with thousands of people were just walking without any sense of where we were going, then we hit the tunnel and a very long line of people standing under and outside, we walked down the slopes of a ramp and ask someone whether the line was for ticket holders, they reponse was yes but have not moved an inch for a very long time. That and what we encountered later prompted me to note to my daughter that something is seriously wrong particularly since there was no police and no one providing any information. We just went with the crowd and after almost two hours of walking,finally ended up at the mall in front of the White House. I have to say that with all the excitment we ignored all the inconveniences;nevertheless, I was irritated to see some National Guard soldiers just standing on corners, talking and no police insight while the clock was approaching the beginning of the ceremony.
If you ask me, I'd say if there is any blame it belongs to the organizing committee and Homeland Security. God fobids if anything went wrong it would have been a catastrophe, Yes heads should roll, it is inconceivable what happened, but I admit I lived the moment to the fullest.

Posted by: postDC | January 27, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

The purple and blue ticket fiasco was a "cluster f__k."

I was a blue ticket holder denied entrance. I was about in the middle of the line. All of the people behind me plus a significant number of people in front of me were denied entrance. I am convinced much, much more than 4,000-5,000 people were screwed.

I hope this fiasco will not turn out to be symbolic of Obama's administration: promises that fall through for thousands resulting in massive disappointment and inadequate remedies because of poor planning and management.

Posted by: Julie007 | January 27, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Whether it was 5,000 people stuck in the tunnel, or 10,000 or just 50, the important point is that the police were not present, that Terrance Gainer proved incompetent (or worse) and that he must resign or be fired.

Posted by: kleibrink | January 27, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

I was thrilled to get an e-mail telling me I could get tickets to the swearing-in ceremony. I had volunteered for several months seven days a week until at least midnight every day and I wanted so badly to be there when our President was sworn in! I even borrowed money to make the trip from Western NC.

We rented an apartment from a friend of a friend. It was walking distance to the capitol. We took our five-year-old granddaughter because she spent lots of time at the Obama office with me and considered herself a volunteer and a voter for Obama, too. (She participated in Kids voting.) We wanted her to be able to say she was there when history was made!

We had silver tickets. We got up early and bundled up against the cold. We left the apartment at 7AM. It was later than I had planned on leaving, but with a small child you have to be flexible. We walked to the capitol and followed the signs to the silver line. The line was already many blocks long when we joined it. We stood in line for over two hours without moving at
all. Then the line started to move very slowly for another hour or so. Then we reached a spot where the street opened up and for some reason everyone started rushing forward in a mob. The line broke down completely. There was no police presence or anyone in authority at all.

We were carried along with the crowd until the whole area in front of the gate was packed tightly with people. Then everything stopped again. We stood in the crowd for at least another half hour, and during that time I don't think anybody got in the gate. The crowd didn't move forward at all. We never found out what was going on. My granddaughter started to cry because she was cold, tired and frightened by the crowd pushing us from behind. It was almost time for the ceremony, and we knew we would never get in in time to see it. The people around us were very nice and tried to help us calm our granddaughter, and when we gave up and decided to leave they tried to talk us into staying because we had waited so long already. I didn't want to miss it completely, so once we were able to get out of the crowd we rushed back to the apartment to watch it on tv. I was so disappointed that I was crying too! Because it was running a little late we were able to see Obama get
sworn in on tv, but nothing will ever make up for the disappointment of not getting in to see it in person.

Now I know that if we had stayed we might have been trampled when people stormed the gate. We were at 3rd St. SW, and left just a few minutes before everyone broke through the gate.

Posted by: kateswafford | January 28, 2009 12:57 AM | Report abuse

grotonpines wrote, "Whatever happened to the ‘Pedestrian Crossovers’ that were shown on the Washington Post map? Did they even exist?"

The answer is no. No they did not. I am a DC girl and I knew exactly where I was, which is how I can tell you that I walked from 7th St east past 1st and then backtracked all the way west to 14th before I gave up trying to get across the parade route. I have heard almost nothing about this and it's infuriating.

Posted by: bug451 | January 31, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

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