Months of prep-work goes into the greatest political show on earth, Inauguration Day

FILE photo from January 17, 2017 shows the final days of preparation before the inauguration of Donald Trump on Friday, January 20. (Photo credit: Sinclair Broadcast Group)

For more than six months, the West Front of the Capitol has been undergoing a transformation, preparing the scene for the 58th presidential inauguration. The mission of the project is to build a flawless bridge between the 44th and 45th President of the United States.

Every four years, politics are set aside as thousands of federal workers, contractors, and members of federal, state and local law enforcement pull together to orchestrate the inaugural celebration. For some, work begins early in the year, before the parties have even decided on their candidates. Construction plans for the inaugural stands that open like an amphitheater across the west front of the Capitol began half a year ago. The contract was awarded back in November 2015, an eternity ago, when the Republican presidential field still had 12 players.

Three days before Donald Trump is sworn in, the flags have been hung, giant screens and audio equipment have been put in place, and thousands of seats are lined up in perfect rows across the lawn.

"As you can imagine, there is an awful lot to do and that it starts many months in advance of the inauguration day itself," said Alan Hantman, the 10th Architect of the Capitol. Hantman, who oversaw three inaugurations beginning in 1997, said a heavy workload falls on the men and women working under the Architect of the Capitol.

"It's a full coordination," he said, "and of course, the new president's team always comes down and looks at any issues and perhaps wants things changed." He laughed, recalling how George W. Bush's inauguration team insisted on having just the right shade of blue for the carpeting laid throughout the Capitol.

One issue for incoming president Donald Trump has to do with the company in charge of providing portable toilets, Don's Johns. By Tuesday morning, each of the porta-potties had strips of blue tape covering the company's logo. Don's Johns COO, Robert Weghorst told the New York Post they had no idea who ordered the cover-up. "We are proud to have our name on the units, and we’re planning to take the tape off of our logos."

Many of the federal workers have been on the job around the clock preparing for January 20, like one stone mason who has worked at the Capitol for more than 20 years. He saw his inauguration workload increase beginning in April 2016. "As far as my trade, we did a whole lot of improvements, more than any inauguration since I've been around," he said. On the plus side, he noted he has seen more funding for more projects coming in this year, compared to previous years.

In total, all the events are estimated to cost roughly $200 million, a bill that is split between the Presidential Inaugural Committee, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, the federal government, and state and local governments. Luckily, to cover the costs Trump has already raised a record $100 million.

For some contractors, this is the gig of a lifetime. Dozens of private contractors have their trucks, equipment and workers strewn across the Capitol. "We're the guys behind the scenes," said a contractor in charge of crowd control. "They call us the 'load-out fairies' because we make all this happen overnight," he said gesturing to a perfect circumference of waist-high barriers. Since Saturday, the workers have erected 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) of metal barriers around the west lawn. "This is a phenomenally large job. Probably our largest in one place in the U.S. to date."

Downtown Washington will soon become a maze of security with checkpoints at metro stations, closed streets, parking restrictions, and thousands of law enforcement officers—check the links for details.

This year there will be 5,000 National Guardsmen from 42 states keeping watch of all the festivities, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said earlier this month. The D.C. Metropolitan Police will have the support of an additional 3,000 police officers who have offered their services for the big event. The Secret Service, FBI, and Capitol Police will be on security detail, along with personnel from nearly three dozen local, state and federal agencies.

Part of the task is ensuring that protestors are protected in exercising their First Amendment rights, D.C. police chief, Peter Newsham said. "We’ve had a lot of demonstrations in this city since the election. We consider it a circumstance that we are very well prepared to deal with. We don't anticipate any problems," he said.

While security officials were not able to discuss the means and methods of their security preparations, law enforcement and the intelligence community are on high alert to make sure the inauguration is a success. Speaking to reporters on Friday, Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson said, "We know of no specific credible threat directed toward the inauguration."

Joseph Clancy, Director of the Secret Service, expressed his concerns during an interview with a Washington, D.C. radio station, noting that the general environment around this inauguration is different from previous ones. "I think people today are willing to do things they may not have been willing to do in the past,” Clancy said. He cited increased incidents of people spontaneously jumping security barricades and trying to breach security perimeters. But those are incidents the Secret Service is well-prepared to handle, he assured.

In addition to traditional perimeter control, there will be special barricades to protect against a possible truck attack, like the one's recently carried out in terrorist attacks in Nice, France and Berlin.

For the tens of thousands of participants coming to D.C. from around the country, navigating the celebration can also be tricky. Capitol Police anticipate people will begin showing up to get their seats on the west lawn as early as 4:00 a.m. The gates will open up for people to take their seats around 6:00 a.m., but if the crowd is particularly large, the plan is to open by 5:30 a.m.

Dr. Randell Trammell is the CEO of the Georgia Center for Civic Engagement, sponsored by the YMCA. He was leading a group of 108 secondary school students around the perimeter of the Capitol. Each of the students was eagerly awaiting Friday, when they will all witness the 45th president being sworn into office. They shouted that they are most excited "to see Donald Trump," and "to see the peaceful transfer of power."

Adrienne King flew into Washington from Honolulu, Hawaii and was carefully studying a seating map so she could be in just the right place for Trump's inaugural ceremony. "This is a once in a lifetime event. I have never been to an inauguration before," she said. After working on the Trump executive committee during the Hawaii caucuses and serving on the platform committee, King says Trump's victory is "a revolution."

"He makes me feel good about being an American. He makes me proud of the country, and I think he is making an incredible effort to bring people together," she said.

Everyone participating in the monumental effort is hoping the day will go off as planned, without any unwanted surprises. But like the 2016 election, that sort of thing can't always be predicted.

"The closest near-disaster we had was the snow on the evening of Bush's 2005 inaugural," Hantman said. "It was amazing. It snowed the night before the inauguration which meant we had to clean the snow off of 30,000 chairs. We actually called out the National Guard and all our staff, and we shoveled snow for hours," he said. By morning, the effort was success and the chairs and walkways and inaugural stands were all cleared. "The sun broke out just as the inaugural began," he recalled.

Local weather forecasts are anticipating some rain showers on Friday, with temperatures reaching up to 50 degrees, which would be the warmest Inauguration Day in history. The StormWatch 7 Weather Team is starting to become more confident the rain will arrive after 1 p.m. on Friday, just in time for the conclusion of the inauguration ceremony.

"That is one of the things the Architect of the Capitol finds difficult to control," Hantman said of the weather forecast. In the past his staff has been in charge of handing out at least 1,000 ponchos to the people on the inaugural stands. So there is always a contingency plan.

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