Security Measures Remain for SOTU

Posted January 31, 2005 at 6:30pm

Federal and local law enforcement agencies will draw on a range of security measures implemented for the recent presidential inaugural to protect the Capitol grounds during Wednesday’s State of the Union address.

“Many of the [same] assets are going to be utilized,” said Secret Service spokesman Tom Mazur.

With the State of the Union designated a “National Special Security Event” by the Homeland Security Department, the Secret Service is tasked with coordinating the efforts of numerous agencies, including the Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police Department and U.S. Park Police as well as the U.S. Coast Guard.

Mazur noted that while the preparations will not be identical to President Bush’s Jan. 20 inaugural ceremony — “Each and every one of these events are unique to some extent. We’re not preparing for a large parade,” he said — many of the same security components will be in place.

The Secret Service spokesman declined to discuss specifics, citing security concerns, but some of the similarities are obvious, including fencing installed last month as well as measures that have become standard procedure for large-scale events on the Capitol campus such as temporary flight restrictions.

Capitol Police Officer Michael Lauer, a department spokesman, asserted any overlap in physical security measures on the Congressional complex is primarily unintentional, but added: “If it’s in place and it assists us with security, that’s an advantage.”

But the extended period of coordination created by the proximity of the inauguration and the State of the Union can be beneficial, Lauer acknowledged.

“We have a lot of the same agencies and a lot of the same people involved, which does help coordination in setting up the State of the Union,” Lauer said. “Each one of these events is a chance for all the agencies involved to improve our communications, our relationships and overall security for these events.”

Capitol Police are not planning a significant increase in security for Bush’s address, Lauer said, noting that the event will be conducted much as it has in recent years.

“It’s not the first State of the Union we’ve done post-9/11, and the prior State of the Unions were good preparation for us leading up to an even larger event like the inauguration,” he said.

The House wing of the Capitol, where the president will speak, will close to visitors at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to allow law enforcement officers to conduct security checks. Only Members and their families, staff with tickets to the event, or staff with an office in the Capitol will be allowed access to the area.

In addition, at 6 p.m. the Capitol Police will close the streets adjacent to the Capitol, including Independence and Constitution avenues, and both First streets.

Additional restrictions will go into effect at 7:30 p.m., when officials will close the area bounded by Massachusetts and Louisiana avenues on the north to D Street on the south, and between Third Street on the west and Second Street on the east.

During Wednesday’s speech, Park Police will assist Capitol Police by deploying officers to patrol the National Mall and the area around the Reflecting Pool on the Capitol’s West Front to monitor protests.

Park Police spokesman Sgt. Scott Fear said the measures are intended “just to make sure that everything stays in control.”

“We deal with so many large events … the communication lines have improved over the years,” said Fear. “The communications from the inauguration just carried right over to the State of the Union address.”

In addition, the Metropolitan Police Department will activate its network of 14 closed-circuit cameras early Wednesday afternoon to monitor locations including the Capitol as well as the Mall, the White House and Union Station. According to an MPD statement issued last week, the cameras will be shut down following Bush’s address.

Temporary flight restrictions issued by the Federal Aviation Administration will also be implemented Wednesday from 7 to 11 p.m.

The restrictions, identical to those put into place for the inaugural ceremonies, prohibit general aviation within a 20-mile radius of the area’s three major airports, an FAA spokesman said.

Under the temporary rules, private aircraft are not allowed into the restricted areas surrounding Baltimore Washington International Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport. Only military and law enforcement aircraft, as well as commercial flights, may operate within that zone.

Issued at the request of the Homeland Security Department, the limitations are intended to prevent a repeat of the June 9 incident in which Congressional officials evacuated the Capitol less than an hour before the memorial service for President Ronald Reagan after a plane carrying Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) entered restricted airspace.