Capitol prepares for Obama inauguration

The fountain on the West Front has been drained. Complex security plans for managing hundreds of thousands of people are being drawn up. And, most importantly, the guest of honor has been decided: President Obama.

With Obama’s reelection, hundreds of officials busily planning the 57th Presidential Inauguration have kicked it into high gear.

“Now that the election is over, we enter a new phase. It starts to get more intense now that we know who the president will be,” said Jean Parvin Bordewich, the staff director of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC).

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The historic event is scheduled for Jan. 21, 2013, at the Capitol and has dozens of departments, committees and law enforcement agencies preparing for the masses to flood the city and watch the first black president take his second oath of office. 

Obama’s 2009 inauguration drew an estimated 1.8 million people, according to an official report issued afterward. And while some officials say privately they are not expecting the same crowds this time around, they confess it is still too early to tell.

“Who’s coming kind of depends on who the president is,” said Bordewich. “You get better crowd estimates as we get a bit closer and can see how many people are planning to come in from out of town.”

Over the next two months, members of Congress will begin receiving their collective 240,000 tickets to the ceremony, printed by the Government Printing Office, which they can dole out to constituents, staff, family and friends.

Scalpers and scammers took to the Internet ahead of Obama’s first inauguration, attempting to sell tickets real and fake — some for as much as $20,000 — because they were so coveted. Congress then passed a bill making it a misdemeanor to sell or attempt to sell inauguration tickets.

As the JCCIC crafts its plans — which it has been working on for several months — the White House is in the process of forming the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), which will be solely responsible for arranging the parades and galas that take place in and around D.C.

Workers with the Architect of the Capitol (AoC) were hammering away on Wednesday in near-freezing temperatures constructing the giant wooden platform that will seat 1,600 lawmakers, former presidents, justices, Cabinet officials, Joint Chiefs of Staff and diplomats from across the world. Even Hurricane Sandy didn’t deter the stage’s erection, according to officials.

The AoC has a long list of preparations that it will be working on, including setting up security fencing, running cable for television news networks, setting up trash bins, placing more than 30,000 chairs, procuring a sound system that will reach down the National Mall, decorating the Capitol with flags and bunting, laying carpet, selecting and hanging pictures in the VIP holding rooms, constructing ramps for compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and readying scores of blankets and ponchos to be distributed, if necessary.

There are contingency plans to move the inauguration indoors if it’s raining or snowing heavily. The move likely would be to the Capitol’s Rotunda, as was done during President Reagan’s second inauguration.

Security plans have also consumed the attention of the U.S. Capitol Police, the Secret Service, the House and Senate sergeant at arms, the FBI and the joint military task force, among other agencies.

The after-action report issued by the National Capital Region (NCR) following the 2009 inauguration made several recommendations to the planners of the ceremony, which the JCCIC says have been taken into consideration for next year’s event.

Hundreds of inauguration-goers were trapped in tunnels leading to the Capitol grounds in 2009, sparking a dramatic public backlash. According to the report, federal and regional officials had difficulty sharing information ahead of the last inauguration and local officials need to develop a better, more comprehensive crowd-management plan.

A terror plot to attack Obama’s inauguration arose the day before the 2009 event, when intelligence officials warned the president-elect of a bomb plot hatched in Somalia, according to the New York Times magazine. It turned out to be a false alarm, but security officials had to develop a response plan for a large-scale bombing, which will likely be in place during next year’s inauguration as well.

For all of the pomp and circumstance, and the intensely intricate planning, lawmakers appear to be excited about the prospect of hosting perhaps the largest political event in the country’s history.

“The inauguration is a celebration of democracy, a time when we pause in full view of the nation and world to inaugurate our new leaders,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the JCCIC, at a ceremony hammering the first nail into the inauguration platform two months ago.

“This event reminds us that free elections matter and that it is possible to transfer power peacefully every four years.”