A Few Comments On Inaugural Logistics and Security

So we’re up and around and I’m back online. I’ll sort pictures today if I can and get some posted as soon as I do.

But I was to extend the comment I made in my post about the Inauguration, below.

And a huge back of the hand to whoever was responsible for organizing the crowds; there was none and what we had instead were color-coded mobs.

Others picked up this theme, and this morning on Memeorandum, I see posts by Firedoglake, Abu Muquama Abu Aardvark (sorry!!) (Marc Lynch), Tigerhawk, James Joyner, and others.They all paint the picture of a dangerous lack of crowd control. As our part of the yellow-ticket line was being compressed and asked to make a 270-degree turn while we were shoved body-to-body (literally – fortunately the woman in front of me had a thick coat on so my camera didn’t gouge her back – I had TG’s arm gripped in one hand and couldn’t have moved the camera with the other) I commented aloud that “This is exactly how so many Muslims get trampled to death in the Haj” which earned me a shushing from the one person around me that got my point.

We went through three or four chokepoints like this, and combined with the lack of any crowd control, information or really any planning for the lines at all – the yellow line got merged with part of the purple line at one point and we were all shouting out “yellow!” and “purple!” as a bottom-up means of sorting ourselves.

It’s amazing to me that no one did the simple math of the capacity of each seating area, the optimal width of the line, the length of line necessary, and laid out simple steel barrier rails to define the length of that line. It’s not like there was a shortage of steel pedestrian rail in DC this week.

Bluntly, we should have just waited until they opened the gates and then swarmed into them. My own politeness and rule-following nature (along with twenty thousand others like me in the Yellow line) didn’t just get us to the back of the area, but endangered TG’s and my lives.

The good news was that the crowd was – overall – extremely good natured, and that the attitude everyone showed for the first three hours of the wait was wonderful. I’m positive that at any other kind of event this kind of insanely stupid and dangerous lack of planning, combined with people’s normal aggressiveness would have resulted in dozens of fights.

Look, with all respect, this isn’t rocket science. I’ve been to a Super Bowl, to a Rose Bowl, to Daytona and other places where they move low-six-figures worth of people (note that I’m talking about the elite ticket holders where were between the Reflecting Pool and the Capitol – bot as to the parade, I’ll point out that parades with half a million in attendance happen all the time and while this one is different (need for security, etc.) it’s not that different. By comparison, the organization of crowd control here was criminally incompetent; only through luck is it that no one was injured because of it.

I’ll skip over the unnecessarily hurt feelings of supporters and fans who were treated worse than cattle; what happened yesterday was stupidly, un-necessarily dangerous, and the people responsible need to be replaced.

Now James Joyner points out that the people running the events were incompetent at crowd control because they were only concerned with the safety of the various principals:

Part of the problem is that the people running security are concerned only with the safety of the VIP’s, not whether people are disappointed.

“It was an absolute success,” U.S. Capitol Police Chief Phillip D. Morse said of the effort, which involved more than 30,000 law enforcement officers and military personnel from across the country. Although there were numerous complaints about chaotic procedures at security checkpoints, the event went off without serious disruption.

That’s just not true. TG and I received only a cursory search as I went through the checkpoint at the end of the lengthy line; whether because of the ineptitude above or the pressure the (very nice, very calm) Capitol police felt to get people moved through. They made two glaring mistakes with us – one I won’t point out publicly because it was so serious – and wound up waving me through the metal detector with a pair of Steiner binoculars under my arm. Binoculars that contain as much metal as a small handgun. I didn’t realize until I was collecting my cameras that I’d walked through like that.

Now I’ll point out that Rob Leatham with a handgun wouldn’t have been a threat to any of the principals from the front of the area we were in. But if they didn’t intend to keep handguns out, what the hell were they bothering with the searches for at all?

Incompetence, pure, simple and absolute, and a need to make a change at the top.

Fixed embarrassing brain fade confusing Andrew Exum and Marc Lynch.

13 thoughts on “A Few Comments On Inaugural Logistics and Security”

  1. I think the reality is that crowd control is a skill that most police departments rarely get a chance to employ. New Orleans is one of the few cities that do (typically 1 million on Fat Tuesday, hundreds of thousands during the weeks before) and NOPD officers with good records are desirable hires all across the country.

  2. When I weigh these opinions against the news there were 0 total arrests, in a crowd of over 1 million…

    I think the truth regarding success and failure of security lies somewhere in the middle.

  3. @Galrahn, welcome to something called the “non event feedback loop”:

    The fact that nothing happened gives you a false sense of the inherent riskiness of that activity. This is the typical route to how people become infected by HIV, die in backcountry avalanches, cause drunk driving accidents, etc. A lack of introspection about risky activities can get you, and others, killed.

    (Link cut – as it was a bl0gspot link it could not be fixed – David Blue)

  4. Some friends tried to convince me to go down (I live about 20 miles away) but I know what it gets like around the Mall during events like this, and all the hoopla this time was an order of magnitude greater than usual. I did go down for Clinton’s and Bush’s inaugurals. In fact, I lived on Capitol Hill during Clinton’s, so that wasn’t much of a stretch. I recall the security for those events as very tight, and the crowds weren’t that bad where I was. I walked down to the staging area from L’Enfant metro, and it was pretty easy to get there. Another time I hung around where the Wilson Center is now located, and it was fairly easy to get into the first rank of observers.

    Glad I didn’t go down this time. Scenes of that crowd trapped in the tunnel look frightening.

  5. I have a little background in special events planning for large crowds and dignitary events. It is true that the first concern of the Secret Service is going to be protection of dignitaries and the other law enforcement agencies involved will fall into the habit of making that their priority as well. Crowd flow is usually the job of event planners and producers of civilian origin who are contracted by the originators of an event. They are usually charged with doing the whole thing under a specific budget, and it is common for them to believe that a happy crowd will not be a problem, and as a result it is hard for law enforcement to require them to be more careful with crowd flow (thus spending a bunch of money on expensive cops) especially since their bosses, and the politicians that pay them will be under pressure to keep to the budget. It’s a no win usually and, at least this time, the dice rolled the right way. Had it gone differently, I assure you some scapegoat’s heads would have rolled.

  6. Robert M, always follow the instructions under POST A COMMENT on how to post a URL. Do not thread-jack. And I don’t know if that story is right anyway. More comments in the same style will invite summary deletion.

  7. Marc,

    I was above the parade route, kitty-corner with the Treasury building, on NY Avenue. We could look down on one of the checkpoints. They actually shut the gates waaaaay before the parade started (I’m thinking the gates closed sometime between 12:30 and 1, but I might even be a little generous with that estimate). And they pretty much wouldn’t let anyone else through. There was quite a crowd still gathered when they shut down, too.

    The temp seats in front of Treasury were never full, and apparently this was true for most of the stands on the route. Those seats were $2500 a pop. Mostly meant for pretty serious players (corporate executives, diplomats, etc). Whatever security was doing, there are an awful lot of extremely pissed off people today who are out beaucoup bucks with nothing to show for it.

    And I don’t think these are the right people to piss off. I’m expecting to hear about “re-assignments” or outright firings in the next couple of weeks.

  8. OK, I realize this is thread-jacking, so no one need respond… but who booked the “Amazing Lawn Mower Rangers” for the inaugural parade? That said, parades are nutty… by definition.

    The crux of the security situation for me is that any modest attack would have created huge problems because of the weather. Jan. 20 was somewhat warmer than previous days had been, but a dispersal attack during subzero (F) weather would have created huge problems. Lots of people would have expired from exposure, to say nothing of trampling, etc. Scares the heck out of me just thinking about it.

  9. Umm … even on the coldest days, it wasn’t subzero during the day. In Northern Maryland, we dropped a degree or two below zero in the earliest part of the morning, just before dawn. But that was it.

    Do you mean, perhaps, subzero Celsius? It was still pretty darn cold, and yes, that would have seriously complicated an already potentially horrifying scenario.

    My wife and I were on the Red Line Metro train yesterday morning when we stopped unexpectedly in the middle of the tunnel. After a short while, the driver announced there was an emergency situation at the Gallery stop. No other explanation followed, except for a repeat every couple of minutes for the next ten minutes. Finally, she clarified that there had been an accident with a passenger, and that we were going to have to disembark at the Judiciary Square stop. But those were some pretty tense ten minutes. Everyone was calm, but you could feel the tension as people were whispering to each other, wondering if something serious had happened. A gas attack, for example, at any of the major stops would have been absolutely devastating. It was a little unnerving for a while, just imagining all the possible horrors that could be unfolding in front of us.

    Turns out an older woman fell on the tracks and hurt herself. But she was not hit by a train, as some reports initially had it. She’s supposed to be okay, thank goodness.

  10. Some friends of mine worked in the Emergency Medical side of it ans were astonished to report that out of all the people there, the only medical calls they dealt with during the event were around 30 cases of hypothermia.

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