Report: Few Crowd Management Tools’ at Inauguration

Posted March 23, 2009 at 6:17pm

A long-awaited security review of the 56th presidential inauguration was released Monday by the Secret Service, revealing that large crowds and inadequate tools to manage them were among the problems that shut hundreds of ticket holders out of the festivities.

The inauguration went down in history books as the largest public gathering in Washington, D.C.’s history — with a total of 1.8 million attendees.

But the event was marred by complaints from those who had received blue and purple tickets — which granted access to the Capitol’s West Front — but were refused entry.

At one point, officials directed thousands of people into the Third Street tunnel, where they waited fruitlessly for hours in a scene that some have described as chaotic. Hundreds of ticket holders were stuck waiting in line to enter the ticketed area while the inauguration began, while others accepted defeat and returned to their homes or hotels.

In a statement released Monday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, admits that a lack of “crowd management tools— contributed to shutting out hundreds of ticket holders.

The Secret Service worked with other law enforcement agencies such as the Capitol Police to complete the report, which makes more than a dozen recommendations. Among them: List a Web site and toll-free number on all tickets to provide up-to-date information; put up better signage; install informational kiosks; and create a Crowd Management Subcommittee.

Many of the recommendations focus on ways to ensure that only ticket holders stand in line for the inauguration’s ticketed sections. Many of the problems at Obama’s inauguration arose because officers had to sort through thousands of people who didn’t have tickets, according to a summary of the report.

As for the stagnant line in the Third Street tunnel, the report attributes that problem to the absence of signs or barricades prohibiting people from entering the tunnel and a limited law enforcement presence in the tunnel.

It also confirms that several officers directed people into the northbound tunnel to “ease a dangerous overcrowding situation.—

The report suggests the JCCIC and the Presidential Inaugural Committee help with crowd management by using volunteers to pre-screen tickets and help visitors with directions. In the past, law enforcement agencies have taken on the full responsibility.

Feinstein acknowledged the disappointment of those who were barred from the event, saying, “While this review cannot change what happened, and may not satisfy all of those who were shut out of the event, it does provide a good assessment of both the successes and deficiencies of the planning for 2009.—

In the days after the inauguration, as more and more complaints surfaced from ticket holders, several Members got involved in the brouhaha and penned letters of frustration.

In one such letter sent to Feinstein in January, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) wrote, “My office has received many calls and emails from constituents expressing their disappointment and heartbreak over not being able to witness this momentous occasion. And to be clear, these are individuals who did everything they were supposed to do.—

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) echoed this sentiment. He wrote: “This was a failure in planning and organization and one that must be explained. Why was there no form of crowd control in the ticketed screening areas?—

In a statement released by his office, Van Hollen commended Feinstein for commissioning the report and acknowledging any wrongdoing on Inauguration Day. Now, he said, he is looking to the next swearing-in.

“We cannot [undo] the past, and I understand the frustration and anger many still have for how they were treated, which was totally inappropriate,— he said in a statement released by his office. “My hope and expectation is that all of the law enforcement agencies involved will study this report, learn from it and work to ensure that this type of breakdown never happens again.—

A Democratic JCCIC aide said that the committee had not received any feedback on the report from Members, but that the report had not been widely circulated by press time.

The report will be addressed at a joint hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittees on Homeland Security and the Legislative Branch slated for 2 p.m. Wednesday.