The nation’s capital is being wrapped in an unusually tight security blanket Tuesday in preparation for President Bush’s State of the Union speech, according to government officials.
Although the State of the Union address is always a tense event for the Secret Service, the lead security agency for the event, owing to the fact that nearly all of the nation’s lawmakers and government officials are located in a single place for an extended period of time, in today’s climate of increased risk of terrorism, precautions are being ratcheted up, officials said Tuesday.
As of 2 p.m. Tuesday the Washington, D.C., police force activated its series of 14 surveillance cameras. The wireless cameras feed into a crisis center staffed by police and other government law enforcement agencies and monitor the capital’s downtown areas. And ringing the Capitol Hill area within a 15-mile radius are mobile anti-aircraft batteries equipped with surface-to-air missiles; Air Force fighters will be on patrol as well.
Two weeks ago Capitol Hill officials staged a mock attack on the Capitol building as one might play out during the State of the Union address. On Jan. 10, a Saturday, the House side of the Capitol was closed and a disaster drill took place with persons playing the president, vice president, Supreme Court justices and other high-ranking officials. Some stand-ins were given symptoms to relay to their rescuers; others were simply told to “play dead.”
The Capitol is ringed by water, and the Coast Guard will be in force to “saturate” the Potomac River and its tributaries, according to a statement the Coast Guard put out Monday.
The Park Police will have extra patrols of mounted and foot police around the Capitol area to help monitor protests that are scheduled, a Park Police notice said.
As an added measure, each seat in the House chamber has a protective “hood” under the seat. The hoods, wrapped in gold foil bags, are intended to be used in case of a biological or chemical attack on the House itself. The hoods have been under the seats since the fall, according to sources on Capitol Hill who have trained with them.
And finally, the long-standing tradition of grand-standing to be in the camera shot as the president comes into the chamber to speak is being modified. Word went out Tuesday afternoon to all members that no one was allowed to “save seats” on the aisle as a means of trying to assure some on camera face time with the president; no children will be allowed on the floor, either. And once members are inside, they are there for the duration: the doors to the rear and side of the chamber — those used most by members — will be locked during the speech.
NBC News' Mike Viqueira contributed to this story.