Capitol Hill Security Tightens Ahead of State of the Union Address

PHOTO: The Capitol Dome in Washington is illuminated early, Jan. 12, 2016, as President Barack Obama prepares to deliver his final State of the Union address before Congress. PlayJ. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
WATCH Security Tight Ahead of Obama's Final State of the Union

The U.S. Capitol is one of the most heavily protected sites in Washington, DC, guarded by its own police force, the Capitol Police, around the clock.

On State of the Union night, security gets even tighter.

Typically, Capitol Police control the flow of traffic on and off Capitol Hill with police barricades and checkpoints, keeping all but the most essential vehicles -– including members and staffers cars –- off key streets around the Capitol and other House and Senate office buildings.

Ahead of the president’s marquee address to Congress, that “bubble” expands outward, and traffic is blocked for several blocks around the U.S. Capitol.

The State of the Union, as a major public event involving the highest levels of government, is also designated a “National Security Special Event” by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

That designation –- usually reserved for inaugurations, State of the Union addresses, and papal visits to the United States –- brings together a wide range of local, state and federal agencies to better coordinate security and streamline the chain of command.

Preparations, according to the Secret Service, have been going on for weeks.

“The Secret Service has been working closely for many weeks with our federal, state and local partners in developing a comprehensive security plan for the President’s State of the Union address,” Secret Service spokesman Nicole Mainor said in a statement.

The State of the Union security bubble also extends to the airspace above Washington.

The Federal Aviation Administration has also tightened controls on airspace activity around Washington Tuesday evening, restricting aircraft traffic and prohibiting other activities –- including drone flights, gliders and model aircraft.

The heightened security is also noticeable on the Capitol campus.

Capitol Police in recent days have also installed full body scanners at the Capitol Visitors’ Center, but it’s not clear if the installation is related to the president’s major address.

“As a matter of policy, the USCP does not discuss law enforcement or security procedures,” a Capitol Police spokesman said in a statement.