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D.C. spends $25m on inauguration prep

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder,Inauguration

The Secret Service won't be the only agency running a high-tech, monitor-filled command center on Inauguration Day.

After more than a year of preparation, District security planners, some of whom will be monitoring every development from a high-tech suite of rooms in Southeast Washington, say they are ready for an audience of up to 700,000 to crowd the National Mall.

"We're as ready as we're going to be," said Christopher Geldart, director of the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. "What's going through my head now is making sure that everyone knows how to talk to each other."

In recent weeks, the city has conducted rehearsals to prepare for Inauguration Day, drills that took place after the District ramped up its planning in June.

"We have very solid plans," Geldart said. "It's still just a large undertaking."

Through Friday, Geldart said the District had spent about $25 million, though that figure is expected to climb by many millions of dollars as the city adds up personnel costs after the events.

The District spent $44 million for the 2009 inauguration, and Geldart said he expects the 2013 rendition to cost only slightly less. He also said the city would seek federal reimbursement.

The money has gone toward everything from the repaving of Pennsylvania Avenue to the construction of a $342,000 reviewing stand outside the John A. Wilson Building.

"There's a lot that the District does to put this party on," Geldart said. "We provide all of the services, everything from paving to plowing to trash pickup. There's no federal entity that's doing that."

And while law enforcement officials say they know of no specific threats for Inauguration Day, the Secret Service and D.C. police are planning to drop a massive security cordon around where the president will be.

Road closures will begin Sunday, and dozens of blocks will be shuttered by early Monday.

District and Obama officials are also keeping an eye on the weather as forecasters warn of plunging temperatures.

A spokesman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee said authorities would decide Sunday whether to cancel any of Monday's outdoor events.

"We're not going to put anyone in harm's way," said Brent Colburn, who added that merely cold temperatures would not be enough to thwart the day's pageantry.

City officials are also planning to use the day of worldwide attention on D.C. to shine a spotlight on the District's case for statehood.

Last week, Mayor Vincent Gray and other District leaders unveiled a slogan on the front of the Wilson Building reviewing stand that reads, "A more perfect union must include full democracy in D.C."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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