By Lauren Matison Posted January 14, 2009, 9:00 AM EST
As the swearing in of President-elect Barack Obama promises to bring unprecedented crowds to Washington next week, one of the most significant challenges for organizers of the inaugural balls is security. To prevent crashers and other uninvited guests who might endanger the safety of their guests, hosts are bringing in large security teams and incorporating numerous checks into their procedures for printing, delivering, and verifying event tickets.
“The level of threat is so great right now because of international terrorists and home-grown individuals who are upset for racial or other reasons," said Tom Locke, a former FBI agent and managing director of BGR, a bipartisan government relations consulting firm. He is handling security for Creative Coalition's Inaugural Ball and said that this year everyone will be on the highest alert.
In between strategic committee meetings, several inaugural party principals shared some details of their tactics, pointing to advance preparation, back-up plans, and sheer craftiness as reasons why they are ready for anyone trying to pass off a fraudulent ticket.
“We are preparing for the large crowds at the Gaylord with numbered tickets and heavy security,“ said Jennifer Sarver, one of the orchestrators of the Texas State Society's Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball. “We contracted our event management team two years ago, so we’re ready for anything.”
For the Hawaii State Society Inaugural Ball, chairman Micah Kohono Mossman said, “The tickets have been sent out as certified mail and require a signature from each guest. To combat counterfeiting, we’ve taken more than one security measure to make it impossible for anyone to walk through the front door with a copied ticket.”
Suzanne New, executive chair for the Illinois State Society's Presidential Inaugural Gala, has incorporated security-related measures into the entire ticketing process. “From producing the tickets to the moment guests walk through the door with them in hand, we have seven checks and balances in place.“ While dealing with challenges including seeing tickets for sale on eBay and Craigslist, New said she has kept the details of the ball's anti-crasher measures confidential to her security and printing vendors. “In addition to secret security, the entire Renaissance Washington staff has been brought on board for this event to handle the flow of 5,000 attendees.”
Although Jenna Mack, co-founder of Event Emissary and producer of the Green Inaugural Ball, wouldn't share all her tricks, she did offer a few details. “The tickets are not regular shapes—there are round and rectangular ones. They are numbered, and are specially encoded so that the people taking them at the door will know if anyone has a fraudulent ticket.”