Inauguration Day Security: Lessons Learned

January 25, 2021

As the security checkpoints are being dismantled, hundreds of yards of fencing and concertina wire taken down, and the majority of National Guard and out of state law enforcement personnel sent back home, the security operations related to President Joe Biden’s inauguration are being viewed as a success. One reason for this success is that the events of 6 January served as a wake-up call — this year’s inauguration was going to be like no other. Security plans originally intended to be put into place a few days ahead of the event were fast-tracked. Calls went out for additional National Guard, law enforcement and intelligence support. Security zones were expanded and enhanced. And information sharing protocols between disparate government agencies were improved. In short, the levels of cooperation and support between the dozens of organizations involved in inauguration day security, coupled with the “hardening” of downtown Washington DC, provided an unprecedented level of security across the entire AOR. The successful, and peaceful, swearing in of a new President was achieved.

Despite this success though, one thing is clear: the size and scope of this security footprint is neither sustainable nor desirable in our nation’s capital. Although there are on-going discussions about maintaining some of the current security protocols, and it is highly likely future visitors to DC will encounter a very different city compared to years past, there is little desire to turn the city into a walled government compound typically seen in war zones overseas. And the truth is, this is not necessary. Yes, some physical security improvements were needed, particularly in and around congressional buildings. However, the one security enhancement that played a significant role in securing the events of inauguration day was vastly improved information sharing. And that is sustainable.

What we witnessed during the inauguration was a breaking down of the usual intelligence silos, and a level of information sharing that helped everyone involved with security for this event. Actionable intelligence was pushed to those who needed it on the ground. Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) were reviewed in near real-time by professional analysts and adjudicated on the spot. And, importantly, the event organizers implored the public to become those additional eyes-and-ears law enforcement needed both before, during and even after the event. (Mayor Bowser’s public services messages asking DC residents to use the iWatchDC website for tips and leads proved invaluable). Those involved in securing the inauguration were also acutely aware that threats existed outside of DC; state capitals were being targeted across the country, and it was imperative that information was being pushed (and in some cases pulled) to those that needed it beyond the beltway.

While all of us are happy to see the checkpoints and razor wire dismantled, and most of the National Guard troops being redeployed back to their home states, it is imperative that the biggest lesson learned during this event – namely, the critical importance of information-sharing – be maintained and expanded upon. This is the type of protective intelligence that will help ensure we stay left of boom in the future.

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