WASHINGTON – Downtown Washington was in virtual lockdown Thursday for the first presidential inauguration since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Half a million people braved the cold to watch President Bush take the oath of office and then join a parade that wended its way from the U.S. Capitol to the White House.
But standing at curbside meant going through magnetometers and potential bag searches, and seeing the marching bands and floats required peering beyond a sea of police officers.
More than 6,000 law enforcement personnel ranging from National Park Police (search) and green-uniformed FBI agents to local police from Baltimore, Md., and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., were on hand for what was described as the tightest inaugural security ever deployed.
More than 100 city blocks were shut down, manhole covers were sealed and concrete barriers and security fences — as well as idle metro buses — helped herd people from place to place while prohibiting them from straying down certain streets.
Sharpshooters with guns and binoculars were keeping an eye on things from their positions on the roofs of numerous buildings.
In Northern Virginia, a command center housed 120 law enforcement personnel who monitored the capital through a series of cameras strategically placed around the city. From there, officers on the ground could be called to scenes of unrest.
In order to get anywhere near Pennsylvania Avenue, bystanders stood in airport-length lines to get through the magnetometers (search). Only bags of a certain size were permitted. Bottles, cans and fruit were out of the question.
“Aw, man!” cried one fur-clad woman as she neared a security entrance, only to be told by a guard that the champagne she was carrying couldn't be brought inside the security perimeter.
“People could throw them and they could be very dangerous,” explained the security guard near the front of the line at 12th Street. To get the line moving faster, he told the crowds to empty their pockets “of any significant items that need to be checked” and open their coats and bags for inspection. Cell phones, pagers and any other electronic devices needed to be turned on as people approached the gates.
But despite the long lines, most people in attendance didn't seem to mind and said the security put them at ease.
“I think it's a necessity — absolutely,” said Chris Rowe, who came to Washington from Minnesota because “I'm just happy [Bush is] in again and I wanted to come and give him support.
“I feel safer having the security," Rowe added, noting the presence of anti-Bush demonstrators in the area.
The protesters were on hand to voice their criticism of Bush for everything from the way the war in Iraq has been handled to complaints about the closing of a D.C. hospital. Police in riot gear complete with batons and shielded helmets were on alert for any possible disturbances.
“We're all terrorists here, according to them,” said Tracy Ellwanger, 21, a protester from New York City.
Protesters were allowed to carry in signs to hold up as the presidential motorcade passed. Surrounding Bush's limousine were regular officers and Secret Service (search) agents who walked, and sometimes ran, alongside the vehicle.
“Seeing those Secret Service agents lined up on the side of that vehicle makes it also a more personal feeling,” said Washington Post writer Ceci Connelly, a FOX News contributor. “They are leaving nothing to chance on this particular day.”
Those fortunate enough to have tickets giving them access to gated areas fitted with metal bleachers had their seat locations designated by the color of their event tickets.
“That's not blue — that's green,” one security guard told a parade-goer who tried to enter a blue zone.
“How about a red ticket?” a man asked as he tried to get a seat instead of standing in a herd with the masses. But no such luck. “Red tickets down there,” the security guard said.
Groups on opposites sides of Pennsylvania Avenue who wanted to meet up found few locations where they could cross the street.
“I'm just trying to get to the Reagan building,” said a red-ticket holder standing diagonally across the street from the building.
“That's kind of sad they just can't let you get across,” said one sympathetic crowd neighbor.
About 1,500 Boy and Girl Scout volunteers and their chaperones were on hand to help direct visitors. One volunteer said “people seem to be pretty happy” with the way things were being run, despite all the security measures in place.
“It makes me feel a lot safer, I don't mind standing in the security lines,” said Shawn Seeds from Reno, Nev., who was trying to figure out if he could follow the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to see his child perform in the McQueen High School Marching Band.
“It definitely is harder [to get around] than the last inaugural we were at” four years ago, Seeds said. “Right now, we're just trying to stand here and find out what we're supposed to do ... we can't get from here to there, and it's frustrating.”