Is the White House Safe?

The White House is more than the first family's home. To the Secret Service: it's a fortress.

The iron fence is the first line of defense. Guard stations control the entrances, while bullet-resistant windows protect the ooccupants.

Fence jumpers are not uncommon, so inside the fences are what agents calls "perimeters of protection." Alarms are positioned beneath the ground and infrared sensors above the ground to detect intruders.

Circulating around the lawns and gardens, often hidden, are groups of armed agents formed into emergency response teams. Their job is to rush forward, not wait for intruders to reach their zone. The Secret Service won't say how many agents there are. They carry semiautomatic pistols, shotguns and machine guns.

On the White House roof, teams of snipers keep watch. The Secret Service says they are the best in the world and must qualify every month hitting targets accurately at 1,000 yards.

The agents train in the Maryland suburbs, where a few weeks ago, they defended against a simulated rocket attack on the Inauguration.

It’s Happened Before

They face the unexpected: One man sprayed the White House with bullets in 1994. That same year, a light plane circled the Washington Monument and crashed on the grounds, killing the pilot.

In the 1980s, a helicopter landed on the South Lawn and its pilot was taken into custody. And two years ago, agents fired a red flare to warn off a light plane violating White House air space.

There are 1,200 uniformed Secret Service agents posted around the clock at the White House and at embassies and diplomatic missions in Washington, D.C. The Secret Service has 2,800 plainclothes agents.

The Secret Service won't say how many agents guard the White House, but the White House division is the largest single unit in the agency. And today, many of them got a reminder of why they are there.