News & Politics

Inauguration Nation: Security Is Paramount

The Marriott Wardman Park gives us a rundown on how it’s preparing for inauguration security.

Wardman Park's security Ferrell Cook in one of the hotel's surveillance rooms. Photograph by Chris Leaman

Barack Obama’s inauguration will be Ferrell Cook’s first at the Marriott Wardman Park. As the hotel’s security director, he has a lot on his plate, from managing huge crowds to keeping celebrities, politicians, and hotel guests safe. But he’s not worried. “I’m totally ready for it,” he says. “I’m excited and looking forward to it.”

Cook has good reason. In 1996, he was working in Atlanta during the Olympics when the city was shattered by the bombing of Centennial Olympic Park on July 27. Nine years later, in August 2005, Cook landed a job at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans. He had been there only 2½ weeks when Hurricane Katrina hit.

“My experience has taught me that you can never say, ‘That never happens here,’ ” he says. “You have to prepare as best as you can to deal with unforeseen situations.”

Planning for the inauguration isn’t easy, Cook says, because there are lots of moving parts involved. He works with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to train his team to identify explosives and explosive components. He coordinates with the Metropolitan Police Department to sync up security around the hotel. He trains with the fire department to give Marriott’s officers a refresher on how to extinguish fires. He runs drills with hotel employees to prepare them for emergency situations. He hires an outside security contractor to beef up manpower. And of course, he works closely with the Secret Service, perhaps the important—and most unpredictable—security detail in Washington.

Because this is Cook’s first inauguration, he’s sought advice from security veterans at other Marriott hotels in the city. Their biggest piece of advice: Have a plan, but keep it flexible. Be prepared to adapt as new information becomes available. If the President decides to come to an event at the last minute, the hotel has to be ready for the security sweeps and bomb-sniffing dogs that come with that.

Another good piece of advice: Keep guests and partygoers hydrated. “We’ve had situations where people standing in line pass out,” he says. Cook plans to have plenty of refreshments on hand.

Part of the reason that the Wardman Park is able to host high-profile parties and guests—such as the Chinese president on a recent Washington visit or singer Dionne Warwick during the inauguration—is the hotel’s advanced security system. The all-digital surveillance system, for example, features exterior cameras that can see past Washington National Cathedral. The FBI has been known to solicit help from the hotel in surveying parts of the city that its equipment can’t see.

“We can watch motorcades as they’re approaching the hotel,” Cook says. “The system is extremely important because it gives us real-time information.”

Our favorite feature: the as-seen-in-the-movies red emergency phone. It gives the hotel an instantaneous connection to Marriott headquarters in Bethesda in the event of an emergency.

For partygoers at any inaugural event, Cook says be prepared for security lines: “Security is paramount. There can be no compromise. Guests should be prepared for what we’re planning for them and know in advance that it’s all for their best interest.”

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