Witnessing and improving the 2013 Presidential Inauguration Parade

Sometime this last fall, I thought it would be cool to attend a Presidential Inauguration. Hotel rooms were expensive for that weekend and they required multiple night stays, so I figured I'd just take the train from NYC down to DC and spend the day on the mall.

Ultimate experiences for these events
Here are some events that demand consideration because they are so special:
Sports: Olympics & Super Bowl
Christmas show: Radio City Spectacular
Parade, floats: Rose Bowl parade
Parade, balloons: Macy's Thanksgiving
July 4 fireworks: NYC on the river
Patriotic: Presidential Inauguration

I booked the trip. So glad I did, even though I was unable to pick up a ticket from my OK Senator in time for the ceremony at the Capitol. I was still able to witness the Parade.
I thought this would be once-in-a-lifetime event. But I was so moved and enjoyed it so much, I may try to do it again. Next time, I would stay overnight in DC, get a seat on the platform, and a seat in the parade bleachers.

Some of the crowds that also couldn't get onto the mall for the performances, oaths, and speeches.

Around the parade area

Since there was a large audience, there were people making political statements, including photos of aborted babies and numerous religious fanatics pushing their mythology.

The security checkpoint

Approaching one of the security checkpoints. Below, in the line.

Approaching the screening tent. Below, I made it through okay, even with my water bottle and shoulder bag.

There were plenty of restrooms. Mounting hand sanitizers inside each stall is a brilliant, thoughtful, and healthy idea.

Some of the people lining the parade route.

Security personnel all along the route stood for over 5 hours - no food, water, or bathroom (that I could see). There was little movement, just At ease and At attention.

Looking along Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. The parade route veers over to the right as it approaches the White House near here.

People up on the roof.

Many tour and charter buses zoomed down Pennsylvania Avenue (the Parade route). I was baffled until I realized they were probly full of people from the mall and the blocked off Avenue was the fastest way out of the area.

Securing the site

There was a tremendous police presence: on top of buildings with binoculars (and probly rifles), in the crowd (probly some undercover), lining the route, and preceding and following the Obamas, Bidens, and other dignitaries.

The escape routes

I noticed several barricaded side street peninsulas branching off of Pennsylvania Avenue. One of the cops explained - these formed quick access avenues off the parade route, in case "something bad happened." They are escape routes for the motorcade or ambulances to get out of the area quickly. There were several vehicles preceding and following the President and Vice President (see fotos below). Media vans were in front and large SUVs with black windows followed. Inside some of those, I would guess, were medical teams, snipers, and communication experts. If something happened to either Obama or Biden, there would likely have been the necessary personnel to tend to their needs. There must have been tremendous planning and preparation for a variety of scenarios that might happen. Especially with this President, one of the most irrationally hated. I suspect the security detail rehearsed several different procedural responses to an assassination. The Obamas were just walking down the street. There were probly many tense and nervous police in Washington, eager to get him into a more secured area.
Note: Securing the site was such a massive effort, that there were enforcement people from all over the country. I spoke with one person who was a Secret Service investigator from the Dallas office. While we shared stories of Dallas, another officer walked by. I asked where he was from - "Lexington, Kentucky."

The parade begins

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama

The excitement and energy in the crowd was contagious and thrilling. I got caught up in the emotion of seeing the Obamas relate to the people in the crowd. It made them more human and less of just media images and sound bites. Many in the crowd ran along the route shouting and waving for as long as they could get through the throngs of admirers. The three fotos below are from professional photographers:

Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden

After the Bidens were the Mayor of DC, the Inauguration Committee, marching bands, and floats from Hawaii (Obama's home state), Ohio, Illinois, and others. There was a long pause in the progress while, I assume, the Pres and VP left the procession to take their place in the reviewing stand in front of the White House. After waiting a while, I got restless and wandered on through the naberhood: coffee, snack, Ford's Theater, Judicial Square, the Spy Museum bookstore.

Orientation map

1. Union Station where I arrived and departed.
2. The security entry point I used.
3. The area of the parade route I wandered.
I also walked many of the streets between the White House and Union Station.

The Old Post Office Building. The Capitol fenced off and secured.
Below: my seat on Amtrak from NYC. Reflection of the train at some stop in New Jersey, Delaware, or Maryland.

Above: pages from the mobile app - it was very well done: maps with restrooms, entry points, food service; list of events; and plenty of info. I also received text notifications throughout the day.
Below: Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn's office in the Russell Senate Office Building. Flags at the FBI Building.

How to improve the Inauguration Parade experience
I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing the 2013 Inauguration Parade in Washington. But, I couldn't help but notice shortcomings and think about ways to make it better.

The parade lasts too long, there are long gaps between entrants, and a long pause while the Presidential party gets into the reviewing box at the White House.
• Too boring: too much downtime, not enough unique pizazz, and poorly designed floats.
• Anticlimactic: The stars - the President and Vice-President - were at the beginning of the parade. Many people waved to them and then left to get out of the cold. Santa ends the Thanksgiving Parade for good reason.
• Poor viewing sites: There are not enough bleacher seats.

How to improve the Inauguration Parade experience

Left: The existing start point by the Capitol. Right: Proposed starting point in front of the Capitol.

1. Change the route starting point. Start at the tiered and lawn seating set up at Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony - this area accommodates hundreds and is a very secure site. There could be 2-part tickets - swearing ceremony and parade, with mall activities between events. The Official parade reviewing stand could be right below the swearing-in platform.
2. Change the participant order: Have the President review the entire parade at the Capitol (beginning of the route) and then the dignitaries leave the reviewing stand, join the tail end of the parade, and walk the route as the finale climax.
3. Publicize start times at various sections: Capitol: 2:30, FBI Building: 3:15, Old Post Office: 3:45, etc. Minimize the long wait for the bystanders all along the route.

4. Tighten up the gaps, position one entry right after another.
5. Coordinate announcements to the entrants or use title cards leading each entry.
6. Allow guarded and rope fence secured crossover paths on Pennsylvania Avenue to allow a better flow and movement of guests. Stop 15 minutes before the start of parade at each crossing section.

7. Encourage better designed and executed floats: more dramatic, intriguing, active, and exciting. Instead of pickup trucks, use self-propelled floats, disguise the pulling vehicle as part of the float, or use impressive military vehicles.