Inauguration planners swim in sea of numbers

WASHINGTON Wed Dec 17, 2008 1:57pm EST

Workers begin initial construction of the presidential reviewing stand November 6, 2008 for upcoming Inauguration Day ceremonies outside the White House in Washington. President-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in on January 20, 2009. REUTERS/Mitch Dumke

Workers begin initial construction of the presidential reviewing stand November 6, 2008 for upcoming Inauguration Day ceremonies outside the White House in Washington. President-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in on January 20, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Mitch Dumke

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Washington D.C. administrator Dan Tangherlini is wrestling with a conundrum -- how to squeeze 10,000 buses into a city that has parking space for half that number.

For some preparing for the January 20 inauguration of Barack Obama as president, and for the record crowds expected, the biggest preoccupation is where to put those vehicles.

"We just can't physically accommodate that number of buses into the city," Tangherlini told Reuters.

Tangherlini is looking to the neighboring states of Maryland and Virginia for help in accommodating the buses expected to stream in from across the country.

The possible 10,000 buses, which if parked end to end would cover a distance of 85 miles, is just one of the scarily large numbers being crunched by planners.

The U.S. media has mainly focused on one number -- the number of people expected to swamp Washington, a city of just 600,000, for the swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

One thing is certain: Obama's election in November as the country's first black president has generated far more excitement than in recent years over the inauguration.

Some have seized on comments by Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, who suggested as many as 4 million people could attend. But the Secret Service, which is overseeing security preparations, said that was overstated.

"We have seen nothing to suggest that it will be 4 million. There is an internal number that the public safety people are using but are not making public," Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said.

But there seems to be consensus among officials that the crowd will exceed the record set during the 1965 inauguration of Lyndon B. Johnson, when 1.2 million people attended.

And Tangherlini said he was planning "for the extreme."

METAL DETECTORS

The city's metro rail system is confident it can handle the expected surge in passengers. Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said 850 rail cars would be deployed, able to carry 120,000 people every hour.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee is opening the entire length of the National Mall, a distance of about 2 miles that runs from the Capitol to the Potomac River, to the public for the first time in inaugural history.

That will present a security challenge for the Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies.

"We are going to have a wide variety of security measures in place. If you can than think of it, we will probably be doing it," Secret Service spokesman Donovan said.

Every one of the 240,000 people expected to attend the actual swearing-in ceremony will be screened by walk-through or hand-held metal detectors, he said.

People on the parade route between the Capitol and the White House will also be screened. Items listed for confiscation include bicycles, pets, backpacks, laser pointers and supports for placards. That is in addition, of course, to firearms, explosives and "weapons of any kind."

Security officials would not say whether they were taking added precautions this year given several death threats aimed at Obama during the presidential campaign or because of the continued threat of an attack by Islamist militants.

"Taking into account the size of the crowd expected and what is happening internationally, terrorism is always a concern because we are in the nation's capital," police spokeswoman Traci Hughes said.

Some 4,000 officers will be on duty on the day, along with 4,000 reinforcements from 96 other law enforcement agencies across the country, she said.

Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, the commander of U.S. Northern Command, the military headquarters responsible for protecting the United States, told reporters that about 7,500 active duty U.S. military personnel and about 4,000 National Guard personnel would be involved in the inauguration, either in a ceremonial role or assisting civilian authorities.

Air defense in the area would also be boosted, he said.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Gray; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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