Gainer To Doomed Ticket Holders: Tunnel Was a Mistake
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer opened his question-and-answer session with the "Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom" Facebook group today with a big apology for law enforcement's "inability...to respond to the chaos which unfolded" on inauguration day.
Gainer wasn't able to provide many hard and fast answers to the myriad of questions, which were kept civil but still reflected the smoldering anger and frustration felt by the thousands of people who, despite holding valid tickets, were prevented from ever getting to their assigned premium standing areas.
As Senate sergeant-at-arms, Gainer is the chief security official on Capitol Hill, and thus, the top law enforcement authority overseeing the Jan. 20 inaugural ceremony on Capitol grounds.
One question that was asked repeatedly in different ways during this afternoon's session was: Why in the world were thousands of people forced into the Third Street Tunnel, where they were held for hours on end while history unfolded out-of-sight above them?
Here is how Gainer answered that question:
"The tunnel was never intended to be used. There is too little information on how many people were there, how and why this tunnel was used, and why the group was never merged into the surface lines.
"Initial information indicates some law enforcement were aware the public was in the tunnel. Pictures can show law enforcement officers in the tunnel. Knowledge of this was not made apparent to my office until long after the event had occurred. Clearly there was a communication break down. The Joint Investigative team is examining this issue."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, has ordered an investigation of the meltdown to be conducted jointly by United States Secret Service, United States Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police Department, Park Police and the offices of the House and Senate Sergeant at Arms. Gainer said the report could be completed within the next 30 days.
The full text of Gainer's opening statement to the doomed and gloomed ticket holders on Facebook follows:
For far too many of you Inauguration day did not turn out as planned. On behalf of the entire 2009 Inaugural Team, I apologize to each one of you who did not get onto the Capitol grounds, to those stuck in the tunnel, to those who had negative interactions with police officers, and those who experienced all three terrible situations. In addition, I regret the inability of the myriad of officials involved in the planning or the execution to respond to the chaos which unfolded.
Many of you had a very negative reaction to my initial reaction that "puffy or heavy coats" might have been one of any number of factors that contributed to our break-down that day. Obviously, I failed to better understand the anger, humiliation, frustration and sense of helplessness that was felt and experienced by so manyor explain myself.
The number of citizens adversely affected by this is still unclear. The initial information I had was less than 5000. I have now seen the photographs from the tunnel and the streets near the purple gates. I have watched hours of tapes of several of the gates to the Capitol grounds. I saw thousands of people in massive groups. Movement seemed impossible. They yelled for information and guidance. It apparently fell on deaf ears. Wether it is 5000 or 10,000, it is too many.
There is little solace for you in the fact that for many the event was successful, even if crowded and cold. That no one was seriously physically injured, hospitalized, nor were any arrests made is positive, but does not excuse failures elsewhere.
This was a massive undertaking; the biggest event in D.C. history. The planners included, as you know United States Secret Service, United States Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police Department of D.C., Park Police, Presidential Inaugural Committee, Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, numerous executive branch agencies, D.C. government, and the States of Maryland and Virginia.
The plan was approved by many and executed by scores, depending on the area of responsibility. Senator Feinstein has directed that a very exhaustive and transparent investigation and review be conducted by the United States Secret Service, United States Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police Department of D.C., Park Police and the offices of the House and Senate Sergeant at Arms. This has begun. We assigned senior personnel who were NOT involved in the planning and execution. The Senator expects the report no later than 60 days and hopes that it is closer to 30.
Over these several days I have tried to provide information as I knew it or as it became known to me. My experience is that initial information is often inaccurate, or incomplete, and even insensitive because of the lack of context. I operated from the presumption that silence and no comment was frustrating per se.
Meeting with people who were in the tunnel and people involved in this Facebook group, reading and responding to emails, and watching the films (amateur and professional) continues to shed light on weaknesses in the planning and execution. Some failures resulted from good intentions but poor follow through; other failures were the result of inattention; many problems were directly related to the number of people.
Some facts as I know them today. The north bound tunnel was never intended to be used as a pedestrian walk way; the north bound tunnel was never intended to be used as a holding area for guests arriving at the purple gate, or for anyone else. But I watched the tape where law enforcement personnel directed people from the street to the tunnel. I believe, although at this point I cannot say with certainty, they were trying to clear the street and bring some order.
There have been many questions about gates being opened or closed. As to the Purple gate it opened before 8 a.m.; people with special needs were admitted. Watching films of that gate, and there are no direct angles, indicate that the flow of people was very slow, very limited around 9 a.m. The initial understanding is thast the USCP officers were attemping to bring some organization to the gate area. People moved through this gate until well afternoon.
There was room on the grounds in overflow areas; the use of those overflow areas was part of the plan if more people came than past experience indicated. Many more came, everybody invited came. But the same amount of tickets were given for this Inaugration as the last several. The reason everbody did not get through the screen into those open overflow areas is a central as yet unanswered question. The joint investigative is working that as a key question.
Why was the gate area near purple so congested, as well as near the blue gate and the silver entrance? Preliminarily, based on interviews, reviewing tapes, emails, this face book information, some people came to the incorrect gate, too little information for those not familar with the area to navigate their way to the correct gate, hundreds, maybe thoudsands arrived with tickets sent to them by enties which were meant to be commemorative and were not valid for admission, many heading to the parade and they could not get to their gates, poor, incorrect or no crowd mangement in the vicinity of the gates, the Mall filled quickly and people wandered or were improperly advised to try other streets or, unfortunately, tunnels.
We continue to gather facts. I respectfully request you give the joint review team an opportunity to complete the report.
We are here to listen (read) ; we want to understand more about your experience. But, I have another confession; I am brand new to Face Book; I joined last night. Although I typed many a homicide investigation during my days in Chicago, I remain a slow, hunt and peck typist. I love spell check on my computer and BlackBerry and regret I have not found that same support on Face Book. So give me some slack in that area.
I cannot answer all your questions; all the facts are not avilable yet; the investigation and review continues. In addition, many more were involved in the planning and execution and they are not here with me.
But all the leaders of this operation are committed public servants who deeply regret our collective or systemic failures. We will get to the bottom of those weaknesses or failures and also tell about things that worked.
Mary Ann Akers
January 27, 2009; 5:40 PM ET
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