Eleanor Holmes Norton outraged by long lines at March on Washing - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Eleanor Holmes Norton outraged by long lines at March on Washington

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WASHINGTON -

There is new information about what may have caused the major gridlock at the security entrance to the National Mall during Wednesday’s March on Washington event.

The National Park Service say the permit request came from the King Center.

National Park Service spokesperson Mike Litterst says organizers clearly underestimated the potential crowd.

"The application for permit from the people that put on the event estimated about 15,000 to 20,000 people," Litterst says. "We certainly exceeded that."

And as the humidity swelled, along with the crowd, it all came to head at the one security checkpoint set up for the public to use.

"They should have been better prepared," says D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-District of Columbia). "I haven't seen it this bad since the president's first inauguration."

The U.S. Secret Service was in charge of security and they had an enormous responsibility -- keeping three presidents safe as well as the entire King family -- at an event open to the public.

Norton says the agency did a poor job balancing presidential security and public access and she fired off a letter to Secret Service Director Julia Pierson telling her so.

"One thing I know that must happen is they must never be responsible for an event that's open to the public,” says Norton. “They should concentrate on protecting the President.”

Secret Service Spokesperson Brian Leary says "every effort was made to adapt with resources and personnel to accommodate the surge in attendees that arrived after 11 o'clock for security screening."

Leary adds, "Throughout this entire event, we continued to process people to make sure that everyone that wanted to attend the event was able to attend. No one was denied access to the event. We will conduct an after-action review with the National Park Service, and if areas for improvement are identified, the Secret Service will take corrective action."

The National Park Service says the public can take some steps too at the next big event.

"Leave early, make a day of it," says Litterst. "Don't wait until the last minute and get disappointed trying to get in."

Norton says she plans to meet with the Secret Service in person to discuss the event to try and prevent a repeat -- because in her words, "a once in a lifetime event, was ruined for a lot of people and it was preventable."

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) on Thursday wrote to Secret Service Director Julia Pierson requesting an immediate meeting following the organizational breakdown at yesterday’s 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington on the National Mall:

Dear Director Pierson:

Along with thousands of others, I am outraged by the massive failure to organize, prepare and coordinate to receive visitors at yesterday’s 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. The congestion at the security check point at the general public entrance to the event caused huge lines and wait times, which left visitors, many of them elderly, frustrated and even ill and overcome by the heat and rain. It is inexcusable that people had to wait on their feet for long hours in such hot and humid conditions, that a number of people fainted, that the D.C. Fire and EMS Department had to give medical assistance to over 100 people, and that some had to be hospitalized. As a result of your poor planning and execution, many were unable to attend and participate in the event altogether.

The Secret Service was confronted with an unusual challenge in the need for heightened security yesterday because three presidents attended and spoke at the event. However, you are the most experienced in the country in the work of managing presidential inaugurations and other events that draw crowds much larger than yesterday’s March, using advanced planning and coordination. Because I meet with the Secret Service and other agencies on planning for inaugurations, I am well aware of the standards for effectively controlling large crowds, which your agency is capable of meeting. I am, therefore, very disappointed that you failed to prevent an organizational breakdown that was entirely unnecessary. There is no doubt that the many failures could have been prevented. Security personnel belatedly added magnetometers and hand-held metal detector wands to speed up the long delays, showing that with routine, advanced planning, the misery your agency caused could have been avoided.

My office will call to set up a meeting with you for the earliest possible date.

Sincerely,

Eleanor Holmes Norton


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