Alexandria officials take precautions and ask for help from residents.
ALEXANDRIA – If you’re looking forward to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday, you’re not alone. However, you might be alone while watching the historic moment take place.
Throughout this week, officials from Alexandria, Arlington and even Gov. Ralph Northam urged people to watch the event at home.
The request came from two different origins. First, officials expressed concern over the coronavirus. Normally, thousands of people attend the inauguration in Washington, D.C. Large gatherings increase the chances of people becoming infected with COVID-19 and the affair could become a super spreader event for the virus.
Secondly, the recent riots at the U.S. Capitol sparked concern.
For those reasons, Alexandria officials, along with state and regional leaders, urged the public to not visit the nation’s capital over the next week.
“The past year has been unlike any other in many ways,” said Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson. “Because we are still in an active public health emergency and a federal state of emergency, this observance will take place individually rather than in crowds. Our public safety teams are working diligently to protect us, but they need our help to make good choices. This year, more than ever, the most patriotic thing we can do is keep each other safe.”
Alexandria plans to activate its Emergency Operations Center on the day of the event, Wilson said. From there, officials will monitor for any issues that arise and will coordinate appropriate responses to any potential threats.
The Alexandria Police Department will also play a vital role in keeping the area safe. Currently, officials within the department are evaluating intelligence information. They are also busy preparing for potential security threats before they become actual scenarios.
The city also mobilized its public safety departments. They will collaborate with federal, state and local partners in the region, including the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
The city noted no current known threats specific to Alexandria.
“The primary mission of local government is to protect the safety of our community,” said Craig Fifer, the City of Alexandria’s director of communications and public information. “[We] work very hard to make sure that every special event and every holiday weekend is safe and this particular holiday week is unlike any before. We have a combination of the weekend, the Martin Luther King [Jr.] holiday and the Inauguration Day to begin with, combined with a global pandemic and a state of emergency at the national Capitol region due to the violence at the Capitol last week. We urge people not to travel to D.C. or to gather in crowds anywhere.”
Alexandria Asks Residents to Report
While emergency services will be on high alert, Alexandria officials are also asking residents to report suspicious activity. But let’s be clear what that means and what it doesn’t. If a family wearing traditionally faith-based garments asks for directions, that’s not something to report. Don’t call the police if someone stands within six feet of you or sneezes on the Metro.
Instead, the city lays out several guidelines for what’s considered suspicious activity. They include unusual items or situations; civilians dressed in military-style uniforms or tactical gear or driving military-style vehicles; large amounts or sizes of luggage; or someone talking about planned violence.
Furthermore, while it might alarm some to see a person with a gun walking down the street, that action also is not inherently illegal. Virginia is an open carry state. Those age 21 and older may also have a concealed handgun permit, which allows them to carry a weapon without the object in plain sight.
However, the law in Alexandria prohibits firearms in city facilities, parks and gatherings requiring special event permits. Private property owners like hotels and transportation providers may also prohibit firearms.
The city asked residents to call emergency services if they observed someone that met any of that criteria. You can call or text 911 to report any suspicions. If you want to get emergency alerts, just text INAUG2021 to 888-777.
Even if you wanted to go to the inauguration in person, it would be a bit of a challenge. Metrorail restricted 13 stations on Friday, with plans to keep the new schedule until Jan. 21. That includes the Arlington Cemetery Station and others in downtown D.C.
Impacted lines will operate on a Saturday schedule and will bypass closed stations.
“That means, generally trains every 12 minutes or every 15 minutes on the red line,” Fifer said.
Metrobus also announced changes.
The company plans to detour 26 bus routes during the seven-day period. They also announced plans to operate on a Saturday schedule on Jan. 20.
“The buses will not be going to the Pentagon on Inauguration Day,” Fifer said.
There will be no service on DASH’s AT2X route on Jan. 20.
Fifer also noted that changes could occur for other travel methods, including Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express.
“It’s really important for anybody who’s planning to use transit to check the website of that transit provider before they travel,” Fifer said. “Although we really encourage people not to travel at all and to stay home.”
Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]
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