The nerve center for the most heavily guarded presidential inauguration in history will not be in Washington, where President Bush will take the oath of office, but 25 miles away in a futuristic command post in Northern Virginia.
Inside a gleaming steel-and-marble complex, the Secret Service and 50 federal, state and local agencies will monitor action in the sky, on the ground and in the subway system. Giant plasma screens will beam in live video from helicopters and cameras at the U.S. Capitol, along the parade route and at other potential trouble spots. Officials will be able to track fighter jets patrolling the skies, call up three-dimensional maps of downtown, even project the plume of any chemical release.
One top police official likened the new facility to a set from the "Star Wars" movies. It is one of many signs that Bush's second inauguration Jan. 20 will take security in Washington to a new level, using expertise and equipment developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"This is the Super Bowl for us," said FBI Supervisory Special Agent James W. Rice II. "Everyone on every team is dressed up and playing in the game. And the bench is very, very deep."
The agents and officers at the swearing-in and along the parade route will have access to the latest tools. "Every piece of technology that exists will be a part of this," said Rice, who oversees the National Capital Response Squad.
Law enforcement officials are building on their experience from other high-security events, including the presidential nominating conventions in New York and Boston, dedication of the National World War II Memorial and the state funeral for former president Ronald Reagan.
"If this was the January after 9/11, there would be a lot more angst," said U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer. "But we have been continually ratcheting up our ability to prepare for large events."
Led by the Secret Service, authorities began planning eight months ago for the first post-9/11 inauguration. They have an array of resources that were not available four years ago, including new communications technology and advanced methods of screening.
Officials say they know of no specific threats relating to the inauguration and the evening balls, and some leaders, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), have urged that the city be kept as open as possible. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said last week that intelligence monitors are picking up less terrorist threat chatter, in general, than a year ago. But authorities are equipped for a wide range of scenarios.
On Thursday, for example, law enforcement and intelligence officials gathered for four hours on Capitol Hill to "war-game" how they would respond to a fire at the Capitol, a suicide bomber or another crisis. Security officials say the most likely terrorist threat is a truck bomb -- one of the reasons they are barring vehicles from a wide swath of downtown Washington on Inauguration Day. One federal official said that Pennsylvania Avenue, and streets within four blocks of it, will be closed to traffic between 20th Street NW and the east side of the Capitol.
Ridge and other officials are expected to provide details about street closures and announce some of the other security measures tomorrow.
D.C. police and federal officials are meeting daily to finalize security details, from decisions about where police will stand to the size and location of security fences and the arrival and departure of dignitaries.
The noontime swearing-in at the Capitol and the parade that will follow on Pennsylvania Avenue will draw tens of thousands of people, including a large number of protesters. They will have to pass through unprecedented layers of security.
D.C. police plan to erect roadblocks and screen pedestrians around an area covering more than 100 square blocks in the center of official Washington. People will have to pass through at least one of the 22 checkpoints along the parade route and through metal detectors.