Fears of Terrorism Force Tighter Security for Annual Holiday Concert
by Manny Fernandez, Washington Post
Metal detectors and police searches will greet those attending the
national Memorial Day concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on
Sunday, the first large-scale annual holiday event in Washington to undergo
a security transformation wrought by the Sept. 11 attacks.
Capitol police officials announced yesterday that they are implementing
number of security measures for the 8 p.m. concert, one of the area's most
popular family outings during the Memorial Day weekend.
Gone are the days when families could wander onto the Capitol lawn from
all directions, hold space for latecomers and meander back and forth without
raising an eyebrow from law enforcement.
Instead, the free event, nationally televised on PBS, will take place
within a fenced-in perimeter on the Capitol lawn monitored by a significant
uniformed police presence. All those attending will pass through metal
detectors, and packages -- including coolers, picnic baskets and purses
will be hand-searched by Capitol police.
At a news conference yesterday, a Capitol police spokesman said the
security changes were a general precaution in the aftermath of Sept. 11
not sparked by a specific threat.
"Prior to September 11, people enjoyed a high level of access to the
Capitol, the House and Senate office buildings and special events on the
West Lawn," Lt. Dan Nichols said. "We have to redefine that access and
redefine what is considered normal now at the Capitol complex."
Capitol police officials have been reevaluating how they conduct security
at major Capitol events and concerts in the wake of the terrorist hijackings
and in the face of repeated warnings from the Bush administration that
terrorists could strike again.
Nichols said two other popular summer events at the Capitol -- the Labor
Day and Fourth of July festivities -- will follow some of the same security
measures as the Memorial Day concert. Police officials will reexamine the
procedures after this weekend's concert to see if adjustments are needed,
"Our goal is not to make the Capitol complex an armed fortress," Nichols
said. "But what we must do is take reasonable and prudent precautions to
ensure the safety and security of those who work and visit within our
Organizers of the event said the precautions are not expected to hinder
attendance or detract from the enjoyment of spectators. "I think it's
great," said Jim Fisher, the event's coordinating producer. "I think they're
going the extra mile to ensure people's safety."
Nichols said he hoped the measures encourage, not discourage, attendance.
"They will know we've taken positive action to ensure their safety and
security," he said.
Tens of thousands are expected at the event. Concertgoers bearing
blankets and umbrellas, food and beverages, have flocked to the lawn in
large numbers on the eve of the national holiday in years past to take in
the spectacle. The 90-minute performance blends music with dramatic readings
and visuals, all part of a patriotic tribute to those who have fought and
died in U.S. wars.
This year, organizers are focusing the tribute on Americans serving in
the war against terrorism as well as on the victims and heroes of the Sept.
11 attacks. In addition, a tribute will mark the 60th anniversary of the
Bataan Death March during World War II.
The program, sponsored by Congress and put on by D.C.-based television
producer Jerry Colbert, will include music performed by the National
Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Erich Kunzel. Numerous stars of film,
theater and television will also make appearances, including actors Tony
Danza and Charles Durning as well as Tony Award-winner Heather Headley.
group Chicago will also perform, as will the singing New York City police
officer Daniel Rodriguez.
The U.S. Capitol Police Board adopted the security recommendations of
Capitol Police officials. The board is the policymaking body for security
and law enforcement issues for Congress.
Other security measures on Sunday include restricting the public's access
to the lawn before 2:30 p.m., a change in previous years for those who went
to the event early to stake out a prime viewing spot. Visitors will gain
access to the lawn through one of four entry points.
The west steps of the Capitol, which have been closed since the terrorist
attacks, will be available for seating. Parts of nearby streets, including
section of Pennsylvania Avenue NW, will be closed.
Nichols encouraged those planning to attend to bring plenty of water
refreshments and to come expecting warm weather. Open containers of alcohol
are not permitted.
Most of the same security precautions will be in place for tomorrow
evening's rehearsal on the West Lawn, which is open to the public beginning
at 2:30 p.m.