The nation remains shocked by the recent attacks and attempted insurrection that occurred in our nation's capital. After watching footage of violent pro-President Donald Trump protesters scaling the U.S. Capitol's walls and breaching the Senate Chamber on Jan. 6, bewildered Americans have been left wondering how the country got to this point.
The deadly riots exposed major security and leadership failures and has led to the resignation of one Capitol police chief and two security officials.
While the police department's response to the Capitol breach has been widely criticized, Washington, D.C., as a federal city and our nations' capital, is a city of jurisdictions. Within its boundaries exists almost 28 law enforcement agencies that are tasked with protecting and defending different parts of the city. In the best cases, these agencies work well together and have performed heroic deeds in response to major events including the Navy Yard shooting and the 9/11 attacks.
The success of these responses depends on the coordination and planning these agencies do before almost every major event. The Capitol siege has therefore raised concerns about whether the agencies really are prepared to handle President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration -- and everything that may come with it. With the event less than two weeks away, the need to ensure that both the city and the Capitol are safe has never been more pressing.
The Department of Homeland Security uses a Special Event Assessment Rating, or SEAR, which is a voluntary rating system for each and any event that is submitted for a designation. The 2021 inauguration has been classified as a National Special Security Event for over a year, which means a higher level of planning and coordination is needed to see it through.
The U.S. Secret Service will be the federal coordinator for security for the entire event.
An NSSE is a planning process that can take over a year and is run by various committees of relevant stakeholders. This not only includes law enforcement agencies, but the military, Federal Emergency Management Agency, local and state as well as transit and transportation agencies. For classified events, the committees will examine, review and re-review every facet of the overarching NSSE security plan.
An NSSE occurs generally in phases: a planning phase, review phase, implementation phase, breakdown phase and after-action review.
The main committee, called the Executive Steering Committee, gets briefed during the review phase, often just prior to the event, by all of the sub-committees and associated stakeholders. Any questions or concerns can be raised during these briefings and the Steering Committee can either ask a sub-committee to review and report back, amend an aspect of the plan or approve it.
With a major incident, like the Capitol riots, another full review is done and typically takes into account what happened during that incident, the apparent failures that occurred, recent intelligence and ways to mitigate any of those failures.
This may lead to a reallocation of personnel, a request for additional resources, an increase of fixed barriers and security posts or other changes to ensure the incident is not repeated.
Once the plan is approved by the Executive Steering Committee, the DHS, Department of Justice and Department of Defense are briefed so they are aware of the security plan. These decision makers can also increase resourcing or help solve issues if they arise.
Just prior to the event -- it could be weeks, days or hours -- the physical security measures start to take shape. Typically, the public is informed of potential traffic and route impacts before the rerouting of traffic, blocking off roads, placement of hard barriers and formation of a perimeter begins.
Standard protective methodology dictates that the best protection involves three rings of security -- outer, middle and inner -- followed by overlapping and interlocking measures. These, as a whole, create a risk and threat mitigation framework that should have some redundancy, flexibility and contingency capabilities so if something fails, another measure can mitigate. During the Capitol riots, this is the one part of the methodology that clearly lacked. Without those rings and redundancy, it's easier for a perimeter to be breached.
After setting up and while the event is taking place, constant adjustments may be necessary to address intentional or unintentional gaps. These include ensuring the personnel working the event are resourced with the tools necessary to properly control any situation.
Once the event ends, the Executive Steering Committee requests after-action reports from every sub-committee. This includes a review of the successes and failures. That is then forwarded to both Secret Service and DHS leaders for review. These after-action reports are essential in preventing future failures.
While the recent riots and insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol should be concerning -- especially ahead of Biden's inauguration -- the NSSE planning process led by the Secret Service has been a proven and effective formula for event safety and success.
According to the Secret Service, "The safety and security of all those participating in the 59th Presidential Inauguration is of the utmost importance ... For well over a year, the U.S. Secret Service, along with our NSSE partners, has been working tirelessly to anticipate and prepare for all possible contingencies at every level to ensure a safe and secure Inauguration Day."
Donald J. Mihalek is an ABC News contributor, retired senior Secret Service agent and regional field training instructor who served during two presidential transitions. He was also a police officer and in the U.S. Coast Guard.