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Washington - The US Secret Service said it hopes to balance security with pragmatism during upcoming inauguration festivities, making changes to prevent a repeat of 2009, when thousands of people got stuck in a tunnel and never saw President Barack Obama's swearing in.
Less than a week before the January 21 inauguration, the Secret Service, FBI and other law enforcement agencies said they hope changes will improve the flow of hundreds of thousands of people who are expected to gather on the National Mall to watch Obama begin his second term.
More signs, better communication and lessons from crowd experts should help, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said. The agency, which is in charge of security for inauguration weekend, wants to avoid a repeat of 2009, when thousands were diverted in a tunnel under the National Mall, Donovan said.
“Everyone was frustrated and disappointed, speaking for the planners... that people were not able to get where they needed to go,” Donovan told reporters at a security briefing. “But, keep in mind, in 2009 we had almost 2 million people on the Mall. We didn't have any arrests, there were no security related incidents.
“Our goal was met of having a very safe inauguration. But we recognise that we need to get the logistics right too and everyone gets where they need to go,” Donovan said.
This time around, the crowds will likely be much smaller. The Washington Chamber of Commerce predicts between 600 000 and 800 000 people will attend the event, down from 1.8 million in 2009, but still about twice the average for inaugurations, chamber spokesman Max Farrow said.
US Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers said police spoke with crowd experts to understand how they could make sure people got into and out of events with ease.
“We've modified the flow (of people), we've modified (street) closures,” Chambers said. “We've modified even where the Porta-Potties are. We need to be certain folks can get to them and then back.”
The FBI said it has no “credible or corroborated threat” against the inaugural events this year, but it will deploy a large number of agents during inaugural events.
FBI supervisory special agent Jacqueline Maguire of the Washington Field Office would not say how many agents would be involved, but said the numbers would be similar to 2009.
Inauguration events begin on Saturday. Obama's public swearing in takes place on Monday, January 21, followed by the inaugural parade from the US Capitol to the White House.
This year, US officials will use social media to keep the public informed.
Chambers said the Park Police would communicate via text message, Twitter and Facebook in an effort to reach as many people as possible if roads need to be closed or if there are changes that needed to be communicated.
“We'd rather folks get the information more than once than not at all,” Chambers said.