LAUREL, MD. – Deep in the woods of suburban Maryland the men and women of the security details for President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Pence are preparing for the worst on Inauguration Day.
“We train for the scope of issues that can come up,” one senior U.S. Secret Service special agent told Fox News before a training exercise Tuesday at the agency’s James J. Rowley Training Center.
Minutes later, while driving on a massive lot that doubled as a mock Pennsylvania Avenue, dozens of special agents, and the re-enactors playing those they were protecting, were run through a gauntlet of scenarios along the imitation parade route.
Fox News embedded with the Secret Service for a training exercise that encompassed nearly 40 different scenarios that could take place over the course of the presidential ride from the steps of the U.S. Capitol to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Organizers of the operation spared no detail, setting up rows of barricades in front of spectators that flanked the route, complete with protestors and unruly onlookers.
From a routine ankle sprain for the First Lady to an all-out armed assault on the motorcade, the security details – as with real life protective situations – were preparing to tackle anything and everything that could come their way on January 20.
To demonstrate unpredictability during the exercise, the presidential and vice presidential motorcades could have driven the mock parade route in an uneventful lap or they could have encountered an unplanned situation that demanded an immediate response.
“The idea is to keep everyone on their toes,” one official coordinating the event told Fox News.
The protectors ran through these situations in a near-constant circuit, debriefing after each one played out. The security training will run steadily until Inauguration Day so that reaction becomes muscle memory for those tasked with the high-intensity responsibility of safeguarding at all costs the president, vice president, and each of their families.
Although there are no specific or credible threats to President-elect Trump – or any events tied to Inauguration Day, for that matter – the Secret Service is gearing up for what some law enforcement officials predict could be one of the most volatile presidential inaugurations in recent history.
“Every scenario has a different response and we don’t want to be seeing these scenarios for the first time on January 20,” Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy told Fox News’ Catherine Herridge Friday. “We are very confident that we’ve got all of the information we need to make sure that we have a good secure perimeter for this event.”
Part of that secure perimeter includes the skies above Washington, D.C. One of the top emerging threats facing officials securing this year’s inauguration comes from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
One such threat that played out during Tuesday’s event included a rogue drone flying low above the presidential motorcade. The UAV began rapidly spraying a green substance to simulate an aerial chemical attack, which prompted the presidential state car to speed off to safety.
“They can have a payload of a number of different items,” Clancy said. “We try to ‘what if’ these things constantly.”
In a proactive effort to prevent an attack like this from occurring, drones have been banned from the airspace over Washington, D.C. on Inauguration Day.
The Secret Service will also deploy cybersecurity personnel throughout the Washington area to monitor the digital infrastructure of locations along the parade route. The agency’s Critical Systems Protection division will also be tasked with ensuring proper cybersecurity of digital systems within the facilities that the president-elect and vice president-elect will visit on the evening of the inauguration.
Adding to the dynamic security picture, estimates suggest that the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States will bring a record number of protesters to the nation’s capital. Speaking at a press conference Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that his department knows of 99 different organizations that plan to demonstrate on Inauguration Day.
Undeterred, the Secret Service’s chief said that his agency is well prepared.
“We’ve had protesters throughout the campaign, so we are accustomed to working with them,” Clancy noted. “We expect to see some, for sure.”
With the persistent threat posed by homegrown violent extremists, law enforcement agencies are taking additional measures to safeguard the parade route as well as the inaugural event’s outer perimeters.
These will include using large sand trucks and dump trucks to barricade surrounding streets in an effort to prevent would-be terrorists from using vehicles as weapons. The strategy takes into account lessons learned from recent attacks in Berlin, Germany and Nice, France, where attackers acting in the name of ISIS used large commercial trucks to barrel into crowds, killing 12 and 86 innocent bystanders, respectively.
Given the inauguration’s designation as a National Special Security Event (NSSE) – the U.S. government’s highest profile event security classification – the Secret Service is tasked with leading all protective efforts. That includes setting up a Multi-Agency Coordination Center (MACC), which will serve as the brain through which threat intelligence and security plans flow out to law enforcement.
But given the enormity of the security picture, law enforcement assets from dozens of other agencies will also be on-hand to assist.
Serving as the lead on counterterrorism efforts for all inaugural festivities, the FBI will have members of its Washington Field Office SWAT team standing by to assist Secret Service personnel as needed. The agency will deploy surveillance teams, as well as bomb technicians, hostage negotiators, and evidence response teams in the event of a crisis.
“We are looking for anything and everything… the smaller-scale more simplistic attack is much higher on our radar now than four years ago,” said Paul Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “Large scale to small scale we really have to consider everything, and it starts in advance with the partnerships and really building that intelligence picture out.”
Fox News’s Catherine Herridge contributed to this report