Video, photos: What do North band members need before inauguration trip? A security clearance

Columbus North High School musicians have traveled to Hawaii, California and Canada to perform, but the level of security they are seeing for Friday’s Presidential Inauguration far exceeds anything previously encountered, band leaders said.

The Sound of North marching band already has responded to security requests needed to march in the inauguration parade, which will follow the inauguration of Donald Trump as president and Columbus native Mike Pence as vice president in Washington, D.C.

Pence is a 1977 graduate of Columbus North and had asked that the band be invited to play and march in the parade.

For starters, all Sound of North marching band members were required to apply for security clearance during a two-week window between Dec. 21 and Jan. 4, director of bands Bill Stultz said.

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That involved sending photographs, Social Security numbers and other personal information required for a background check to the U.S. Secret Service, Stultz said.

Nevertheless, the four coach buses that will carry band members from their Baltimore hotel to the nation’s capitol still will have to be completely unloaded before they are allowed to enter the parade assembly area, Stultz said.

That’s so Secret Service agents can “go over everything with a fine tooth comb,” he said.

Although Stultz and marching band director Keith Burton said they would prefer having all plans firmed up ahead of time, they won’t receive complete details about Friday’s parade until they attend a Thursday meeting in the nation’s capital, the director of bands said.

Details likely will be altered a number of times between now and then, said Andrew Moran of the Indianapolis-based Music Travel Consultants, hired to handle trip logistics for the band.

“The dynamics are always changing, but that’s how it has to be,” said Moran, who has kept in regular contact with the Secret Service while handling organization details for the trip.

The presidential inauguration been designated as a “national special security event” since 1998, three years before the 9/11 attacks. That designation means inaugurations always will be a potential target for terrorism or other criminal activity.

The number of protest groups in Washington on Friday is expected to be four times higher than for most presidential inaugurations, and several groups have publicly stated their goals ranging from disrupting to paralyzing events, USA Today reported earlier this week.

Senior White House officials told the New York Times the possibility of violent clashes between Trump supporters and those who oppose him will make security “the most challenging in recent history,” according to a Dec. 27 report in the newspaper.

Fear of the unknown

“A lot of people have uncertainties in general about this inauguration,” said Columbus Police Department patrolman Eric Stevens, one of two student resource officers assigned to Columbus schools who will accompany the band during its trip. Stevens is assigned specifically to Columbus North.

While bass clarinet player Elizabeth Becker said she has not noticed any of her fellow band members expressing worries, the senior said she has heard safety concerns voiced by parents and teachers alike.

Ideological or political differences with the incoming Trump administration may be mixed in with legitimate worries about the well-being of the band, Becker said.

Fear of the unknown is the most concerning factor for band parents, according to Stevens, Stultz, Burton and Moran.

Largely to alleviate family concerns, additional security measures have been or will be taken to specifically look after the well-being of band members, Burton said.

For example, the decision to book hotel rooms on the south side of Baltimore — 37 miles away from the White House — was made after an extensive discussion with Stultz and Burton regarding security, Moran said.

“We decided to stay out of Washington because we’ll be able to move around if something happens downtown,” Moran said.

Music Travel Consultants also will place a representative in or around each of the four Free Enterprise deluxe coaches carrying the students, Moran said. That way, a trained person will be available to respond immediately in the event of unexpected circumstances, he said.

Also to allay parent worries, all band parents are being provided the phone number of a chaperone who has been assigned to specifically keep an eye on their child, chaperone Amy Jackson said.

In addition, chaperones will be using social media and email to keep moms and dads updated, Jackson said.

“We’re also telling the kids they need to check in with their parents on a regular basis,” she said.

Besides Stevens, Columbus Police Department officer Julie Quesenbery — assigned to Columbus East High School as a student resource officer — also will accompany the band.

Besides protecting teens from outside threats, Quesenbery expects she and Stevens will be kept occupied helping the students make good and safe choices.

“Because I work with them everyday, I know kids do some things unknowingly that aren’t safe,” Quesenbery said. “And if something is wrong, we want them to know they can always come to us for help.”

Arrangements have been made to keep both officers in contact with federal security agencies regarding possible safety issues and developments, Stultz said.

Both officers also have received tentative permission to walk with the band along the parade route “to be extra eyes and ears,” Stevens said.

While the regular resource officers are away, the Columbus Police Department is prepared to send officers to any school as needed, spokesman Lt. Matt Harris said.

Since Music Travel Consultants handled 183 trips last year for student music groups, Moran understands North band parents still are going to worry — no matter how many precautions are taken.

“The easiest response is keeping your child at home,” Moran said. “But so few will ever have the chance to take part in a Presidential Inauguration. Regardless of politics, this is an historic event. What a shame it would be that a young person would be denied the opportunity to be part of that.”

Security facts

A vast overlapping patchwork of intelligence analysts, military personnel and law enforcement officers numbering in the tens of thousands will be working to protect Friday’s presidential inauguration and related activities.

In total, more than three dozen agencies spread out across the capital will be working. They include:

  • U.S. Secret Service and FBI.
  • Up to 5,000 National Guard troops.
  • 3,000 officers from multiple jurisdictions such as the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia and the National Park Service.

At least five subway stations within the security perimeter will be shut down during the inauguration. In addition, the heavily traveled Arlington Memorial Bridge, which spans the Potomac River between the Arlington Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial, will be closed to vehicular traffic.

The cost of security alone is expected to exceed $100 million.