The U.S. Secret Service Thursday disputed published reports predicting that more than 4 million people will be attending the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.
Security planners "have seen nothing suggesting that many people" will attend, Secret Service Special Agent Malcolm Wiley said during a news conference Thursday. Wiley refused to offer an official estimate, saying only that the Secret Service has internal numbers they are working with.
In a preliminary briefing with reporters, the Secret Service, the agency in charge of inauguration security, said that based on intelligence reports, they are expecting a larger audience than in any previous inauguration.
"We have seen his ability to draw crowds," Wiley said of the agency's experience while protecting Obama during the campaign. "Based on known hotel bookings within 100 miles of Washington, a known number of planes arriving in the area, and an estimated 10,000 charter buses coming to town, the Secret Service is preparing for a large crowd, but does not believe it will be close to 4 million people."
That number of buses parked end-to-end would stretch 75 miles. Officials have identified 5,600 parking spots in the district for those buses and are in the process of identifying enough spaces to meet the unprecedented demand. The average large event in Washington draws approximately 1,000 buses, officials said.
Harder to track, officials acknowledge, is the number of people coming to the D.C. area for the historic event who are not staying in hotels, but are staying with friends or families in private residences.
Virtually the entire force of 4,000 D.C. Metropolitan Police Officers will be on duty for the event and an additional 4,000 law enforcement officers from 96 police agencies will be present to assist. The total will be 1,000 more officers than at any previous inauguration.
The U.S. Park Police will also have additional support from 25 police agencies, though they did not release the number of officers they would be adding.
Attendees will face many layers of security, which will vary by location. The tightest security will be at the U.S. Capitol, where the actual swearing-in will take place.
The parade route will open at 7:00 a.m., for those wanting to get the best view. For those locations, prohibited items, according to the Secret Service, include the obvious: "firearms, ammunition, explosives, weapons of any kind," but also some not so obvious, including "aerosols, supports for signs and placards, packages, coolers, thermal or glass containers, backpacks, bags exceeding size restrictions (8"x6"x4"), laser pointers."
Backpacks, strollers, chairs, coolers and other comfort items will be allowed on the National Mall. However, officials advised that "less is more" in terms of what people should plan to take with them to view the inauguration.
The Metro, Washington's subway system, is expected to be pushed to capacity. Assuming that everything runs perfectly while the system runs at "crush load" or maximum capacity, the Metro will be able to move 960,000 people between 4:00 a.m., when the system starts running, and the noon swearing-in ceremony.
Again, that assumes there are no stoppages due to illnesses, mechanical problems or security incidents anywhere in the system. Metro spokesperson Linda Farbstein said bluntly, "We are not going to be able to carry 2 or 3 million people. We figured that we can carry 120,000 people an hour, max, on the rail system….That assumes best-case scenario."
Street closures and detours will complicate bus service, Farbstein said.
In the event of a security incident, FBI would be the lead response agency. The Department of Homeland Security is preparing a public address system to convey emergency information should the need arise.
Crowd estimates are notoriously inaccurate, leading the U.S. Park Service in recent years to decline to provide them. Some of the bigger events of the past several decades, according the various estimates, include the 1.2 million who attended Lyndon Johnson's inauguration in 1965, the Bicentennial fireworks display in 1976, which attracted 1 million, and the Million Man March of 1995 that may have actually met that number, give or take a few hundred thousand.
Officials are still grappling with how many portable toilets they will need for the event. Planners dodged repeated questions about porto-lets, saying they were still assessing the need.