Department of Homeland Security

What DC's Expanded Special Security Designation Means for Safety in the District

NBC Universal, Inc.

The Department of Homeland Security has expanded a special designation that will increase security in the District to maximum levels in advance of the inauguration.

The National Special Security Event designation was scheduled to take effect next week, the day before the inauguration. Instead, it will begin Wednesday. It basically brings together all available resources in a coordinated effort to prevent the kinds of violence that occurred at the Capitol.

"It is all hands on deck for this from the federal, state and local law enforcement and intelligence communities," said Matthew Doherty, former head of the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center.

Doherty, who now serves as senior vice president for threat violence and risk management with the consulting firm Jensen Hughes, says he's confident security in the District will look very different next week, compared with last week's general lack of preparedness.

"You'll see a lot more preparation than just a contingency plan," said Doherty. "There's a tremendous amount of resources being dedicated."

Following the attack at the Capitol, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security requesting that the department extend the National Special Security Event period “given the new threats from insurgent acts of domestic terrorists.”

"The FBI and the Secret Service, along with many other agencies, will be in charge of that protection," Doherty said. "Many National Guard will be in full tactical gear to assist at the direction of law enforcement."

Doherty says expect to see a heavy law enforcement presence around the monuments and other symbolically important sites, since threats often target buildings and iconic locations, not just specific people.

"The mere absence of a direct threat on social media doesn't mean that you can't allocate resources," said Doherty. "We look for attack-related behavior, taking selfies from the site ... pre-attack surveillance."

He says there is likely physical surveillance already being conducted around the country as well, to monitor key individuals who might be planning violence.

But he worries the removal of known activists from several social media platforms and actions to limit access to sites like Parler will make it more difficult for law enforcement to monitor those activities.

"There's a fear that some of that chatter will now go even further underground and be harder to detect," Doherty said.

Amid reports of plans for violence, Doherty says preparedness and prevention are the main focus. Law enforcement from around the country will also be in D.C. to help with the heightened security. Some members of Congress and local leaders have expressed concern about whether the NSSE plans are sufficient, but Doherty believes they will be enough to keep the District safe. 

Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.

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