Safeguarding the President on Inauguration Day
On Wednesday, January 20, the 59th Presidential Inauguration was held at the U.S. Capitol, the site of a recent riot and serious security failure resulting in several fatalities, extensive property damage, and multiple physical injuries. What can we learn from the events of January 6, 2021? As a Secret Service agent, I can offer some perspective having been involved in previous Inaugurations and other major events.
More than a suit—a plan.
Oftentimes, the public’s image of the Secret Service is a federal agent dressed in a suit with sunglasses and earpiece protecting the President. I did protect the President and First Lady, but two other assignments were directly related to protecting buildings such as the U.S. Capitol as well as major events, like the Inauguration. As an agent, I assisted in constructing security plans for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, and as Director of Security for the NBA, I participated in security measures for the Athens Summer Olympics.
Just like you, only different.
We can see a lot of similarities in security planning for large scale events and planning at your organization, except, of course one is on a much larger scale. Using best practices, we ensure physical, technical, procedural, and personnel security work together, we coordinate with other internal departments and external agencies, and train so everyone understands their role.
When I was assigned to the Secret Service’s Major Events Division, I designed security plans for events designated as National Special Security Events (NSSEs), including the Inauguration, State of the Union, and the Olympics. For NSSEs the Secret Service designs the security plan, the FBI is responsible for crisis management, such as what we experienced with the riot at the Capitol, and FEMA is onsite for consequence management if an incident occurs. These different agencies work together, share information, and assume delineated areas of responsibility that maximize their respective strengths.
This Inauguration was always going to be different.
Due to concerns with COVID-19, this Inauguration was always going to be different than its predecessors, with scaled back or cancelled events, such as the parade. And after the riot on January 6, the Secret Service and other partner agencies adjusted the security plan even further. They collectively identified potential vulnerabilities by assessing what they had and what they needed in terms of personnel, physical, technical, and procedural security—and all must be optimized and work together in order to be successful:
- I’m sure you’ve seen the influx of National Guard troops with about 25,000 Guard members on the ground in Washington, D.C. Personnel from other local, state, and federal agencies will also join them and coordinate their efforts.
- The area around the Capitol and National Mall has physical barriers like fencing with barbed wire on top and bollards to protect against vehicles with explosive devices. Additional restrictive areas have also been set up to limit the flow of traffic and people, also extending to rail stations and airports.
- Security technologies include cameras that use both facial recognition to identify individuals on watch lists and license plate recognition to spot any reported suspicious vehicles.
- Procedures, directives, and official orders outline the combined decades of security expertise of members from disparate agencies in the common objective of executing the plan and protecting the President, First Lady, members of Congress, and all visitors attending this ceremonial demonstration of our democracy.
An emergency management plan protects you from just that—emergencies.
Every event, organization, company, and agency must have a security plan to prevent and mitigate potential incidents and an emergency management plan (EMP) to respond in case something does happen. An EMP, among many things, establishes a reporting structure to manage the emergency, proper response protocols to safeguard people including evacuation, shelter-in-place, and run, hide, and fight, and a communication system to transmit vital information that can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.
Practice really does get you closer to perfect.
A lot goes into an effective security plan, program, and policy. And that was very apparent when I was designing the airspace security plan for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, four months after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The word on everyone’s mind and from everyone’s lips was “security.” This Inauguration is no different—and neither is your own organization. You must design a plan, put security measures in place that support it, and train your people on it. Just having a security plan, measure, or officer does not make you safe and secure. You must strengthen your security through scheduled training customized to the needs of each stakeholder.
Always be better.
Every plan can be improved. Communicate with partners, share information, and make sure you take the time to review an event, or your own security program, at least once a year so you can update it and make any adjustments to fix what didn’t go well—and be prepared for whatever comes next.
We’re here to help.
On Inauguration day, you were able to see me on local Chicago news programs sharing similar information about protecting the peaceful transition of power and our 46th President. When you’re ready to talk about your own security challenges and protecting your people, contact me at [email protected] or 312.515.8747.