Inauguration planners seek to avoid repeat of 'purple tunnel of doom'

Congressional planners of President Obama’s inauguration announced a crowd management plan on Wednesday in an attempt to avoid the problems many ticket-holders faced four years ago.

Inauguration staff will monitor social media sites for signs of slow-moving lines, more personnel will be on the scene to direct people to their appropriate seating areas and more magnetometers will be in place to try and help speed the screening process along, according to planners.

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Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC), said the multipronged strategy is aimed at preventing a failure similar to the one in 2009 that trapped more than 1,000 people in the Third Street tunnel for hours, with many never making it to their seats.

A lack of security personnel, a broken magnetometer and a dearth of signs and directions contributed to what became known as the “purple tunnel of doom,” so called because many of those stuck in the tunnel had tickets for the “purple” seating area.

“At our very first meeting, the members of the Joint Congressional Committee and I decided that we had to make crowd management a top priority for the upcoming ceremonies,” Schumer said in a statement.

“For many months, we’ve been developing a plan that will keep ticket lines moving and ensure that everyone who comes to Washington, D.C., to celebrate democracy enjoys their experience. I’m hopeful that our plan will solve the issues that plagued past ceremonies, and will contribute to a smooth day on Jan. 21.”

Schumer said that if staff picked up on a trend of attendees complaining about their entrance or screening process on social media sites, such as Twitter, “officials will be directed to the area of concern to address the issue in real time.”

As an additional precaution, Schumer said that the Third Street tunnel would be closed to pedestrian traffic on Inauguration Day and signs directing people where to go will be dramatically increased throughout the city.

The fateful tunnel was slated to be closed on Jan. 20, 2009, for Obama’s first inauguration as well. But as an estimated 1.8 million people descended on the National Mall and the Capitol complex, scores of ticket-holders were directed to wait in line in the Third Street tunnel, only to find themselves stuck there for hours in the cold, missing the event.

“Poor and insufficient signage was a lead contributor to long ticket lines and misdirected attendees,” said the JCCIC in a Wednesday press release.

“In addition, there were too few ticket checkers to ensure that people were in the correct line. Therefore, attendees who had the wrong ticket color were unaware of the problem until they reached the entrance, often after waiting hours in line. Insufficient magnetometers for the crowd size also became overwhelmed, leading to shutdowns and long lines in ticketed sections.”

A federal report issued after 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.

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 that identifies potential cracks within interagency communication.

Security for the day’s event, which is expected to draw fewer people this time around, will be handled by the U.S. Capitol Police, Washington D.C. Metro Police, the Secret Service, the House and Senate sergeants at arms, the FBI, the Park Police and the joint military task force.

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