The Inauguration – Under The Hood

Guest post by commenter TK – someone who secures these events for a living.

Ever wonder about the politics of political events? Probably not, unless you were at the inauguration or some other heavily attended event, standing in line for a few hours for a seat that you probably can’t see anything from anyway, while temperatures, tempers and various levels of discomfort rise and fall around you. As you begin to notice the slight ache growing in your left foot and the warning tingle beginning in your lower back, your thoughts began to display variations of the phrase: “Who the hell planned this shindig?”

And “Why didn’t anyone foresee these crowds?” Not to mention: “Who the heck is in charge here?!”Politicians are surrounded by people hired to make these things happen. In my experience, most of these enthusiastic planners of the party are 25 years old, highly educated, lightly life experienced and unfamiliar with what the event might feel like to the majority of attendees, because the priority will be placed on VIPs. Additionally, these starry eyed future senators and movie stars find it hard to believe that anyone would want to harm their beloved political star, be they a candidate, governor, president, first lady, etc. This is a notable departure from the attitude of the planners for foreign dignitaries by the way. It seems that the rest of the world understands the risks their top politicos face in public, though they give similar disinterest to the comfort of the crowds that may attend the event.

The crowds, you see, are props for the visual effect of the event. When the event is televised, or otherwise covered by the media, the handlers just need the world to believe that every single human on the planet is beating with one happy heart for the political agenda featured at the show. Close ups will only be of the smiling and clapping variety. The press will be in designated areas for the best views of the happiest crowds.

Behind the scenes, everyone is arguing about how to accomplish the desired degree of smoke and mirrors (including security) without spending any money. Law enforcement (usually multiple groups with competing interests) will submit plans that include crowd control, dignitary security, traffic flow, contingency plans and worst case scenarios. Fire safety will submit plans that include emergency medical response, fire response, incident command, traffic flow, crowd control, and worst case scenarios. Rigging companies (lighting, staging, etc) will submit plans that cover load in, set up, load out, truck parking and employees. Talent handlers will submit requirements for green rooms, catering, transportation and lighting. In fact, every single vendor, player, designer, producer or participant of any kind will have their own plan based on their vision of their role. Then comes the battle for the money.

We go back to the young, enthusiastic, naïve, but well intentioned workers for the star dignitary. It is hard for them to believe that a happy crowd will want to harm their candidate or each other, and they will begin cutting in the area of crowd control and traffic flow without realizing that their crowd will be considerably less happy when the lines get longer and wait more uncomfortable. Our planners tend to cooperate when it comes to dignitary security, if it is explained graphically enough and they tend to be big fans of the talent they invite which keeps the plans of talent managers intact. Fire Marshals are actually more powerful than presidents, which usually keeps the fire safety plans intact. That brings us back to crowd control and traffic flow…and so the budget gets cut. The one thing you can count on is that precautions are in place (many of them invisible) to assure the safety of the stars of the show and the rest is a roll of the dice where money spent is carefully weighed against the desired visual impact of the show. Crowd comfort and convenience are far further down the scale of importance and the people who see this as a matter of public safety are generally considered to be paranoid party poopers (sorry for the strong language). The end result is a roll of the dice that someone out in that big ‘ol crowd hasn’t snuck inside wearing a big coat with a rip cord and heavy belt filled with shrapnel. And as long as that didn’t happen this time, the planning will be deemed a success and the back slapping and congratulations on a job well done can commence.

If there is a disaster in the crowd, the Law Enforcement planners will willingly take the bullet in the after action investigation. If they object or tell the truth about what they wanted to do, as opposed to what they were allowed to do, the people who sign their budgets, give them raises, negotiate their benefits, authorize staffing and otherwise control their professional success will be very unhappy with them and they could end up suddenly retired or assigned the command of a small outpost station North of Fairbanks.

And that’s just the way it goes…..


The above is my opinion (a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty) based on personal experience and is not intended to offend starry eyed interns, future senators or movie stars, any particular party or religious faith, lifestyle or belief system.
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2 thoughts on “The Inauguration – Under The Hood”

  1. And most of those young, enthusiastic true believers don’t have the experience to organise a party in a brewery with a fist full of fifties. Having had to be the “adult” administrator over the years I can assure you that they really don’t have any idea at all of what the consequences of their decisions are going to be. They are trained, and highly trained, to think short and immediate, and are incapable, unless led by the nose, of extrapolating to longer term or larger results.

  2. I helped plan one of these events right after Desert Storm.

    I was an Active Army captain working at an Army Reserve headquarters in the Midwest. The governor wanted to have a victory parade for members of all services. The guy in charge of the parade and all its associated activities was the governor’s PR flack. He tasked the National Guard with putting everything on. Four weeks before execution.

    The plan was to have all of the military units (with family members) arrive at a fairground several miles from the parade route. Buses would pick up service members by unit, deliver them to the start point of the parade, then pick them up at the end point and return them to the fairgrounds for lunch with the governor.

    When I went to the initial planning meeting, the only people there were PR reps from the various military services (Active, Reserve, and Guard). No operational or logistics types.

    I polled the various services and estimated over 3000 marchers. When I asked about buses, the Guard public affairs officer said, “We’ve got it covered.”

    “How many buses do you have?”, I asked.

    “Three,” he replied.

    The meeting broke up with an agreement to reconvene the next week.

    I came to the next meeting with a bus timetable. I showed the PR guys how three buses could move 3000 plus people over the required distance. The first bus would have to roll at 0300 and the last marcher would arrive for lunch with the governor at 1900.

    Then I showed another timetable that could do the lift in an hour at each end. It merely needed 40 more buses. And the police to direct traffic. And other roads restricted to emergency vehicles.

    After that meeting, we were asked to take charge of the event. Which we did. And the governor had a nice, undramatic parade.

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