Metro planners are estimating a crowd of 500,000 to 800,000 for the 2013 inauguration festivities. That’s roughly half the attendance in 2009, when an estimated 1.5 million people turned out for President Barack Obama ’s first swearing-in, pictured above.
The tunnel itself won’t be a problem — police decided to close it for the event — and the smaller crowds means less likelihood of a repeat. Gainer said he thinks the incident achieved an unfair level of notoriety, considering the number of people stuck versus the total attendance. But he said that, this time around, organizers brought in experts on monitoring and moving large crowds to inform their decisions.
“I won’t deny how tough it was for people who got stuck in the tunnel. I’ve talked to some of them,” Gainer said, adding that organizers were “very much aware of how to avoid that specific problem.”
The result of their advice, he said, is an increase in signs and workers telling people where to go, with the goal of getting them from their Metro station or other point of entry to their destinations as quickly as possible. Gainer said “wayfinder” workers will screen crowds as they approach the Capitol, trying to make sure that everyone is heading toward the correct gate and trying to avoid having people arrive at the wrong place, then having to fight through a crowd to leave.
“An action somewhere has a ripple somewhere else,” he said. “Anytime someone decides to open a gate, close a gate, delay a gate, that ripples all the way back through the streets and into the Metro system. So knowing about all of that as it happens allows you to call an audible when you need to.”
Organizers have also focused on getting advance information to attendees about how to get where they need to go. “That really wasn’t the focus four years ago,” Gainer said.
Brian Leary, spokesman for the Secret Service, the lead security agency for the event, said organizers are hoping that inauguration apps for smartphones and social media could play a helpful role in moving people this year. Agencies are using a common hashtag, #inaug2013, for communications, he said.
“Obviously social media is more prevalent now than in 2009,” Leary said. “It’s a great way to get information out to the public. There is a balance between moving people quickly and efficiently but also safely, so the best option is to communicate with them.”
Still, some delays will be inevitable, especially for ticketed attendees approaching the nearly 200 metal detectors the Secret Service is setting up around the Capitol.
“I think what people need to keep in mind is to give a lot of time to get where they need to go and be patient,” said Shennell S. Antrobus, a spokesman for the Capitol Police. “Dress appropriately for the weather and enjoy the day.”
Antrobus said attendees are likely to have a smoother experience if they check the list of items generally prohibited from the parade route and the more restrictive list for the Capitol. Umbrellas, for example, are permitted along the parade route but not at the Capitol.
He said attendees can make the experience more pleasant for one another if they pay attention to signs, avoid items that would slow down security checkpoints and stay away from areas they won’t be allowed into. “If you do not have a ticket,” he said, “do not go to Capitol Hill.”