On the front lines in Washington
Federal Protective Service agents learn coordination works
By Thom Patterson
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal agent Dean Hunter was en route to help secure an inaugural event attended by President Bush when his pager went off -- a man had parked his van a block from the White House and was threatening to ignite a homemade bomb.
Hunter, deputy regional director for the Federal Protective Service, immediately turned his vehicle toward the White House.
The U.S. Secret Service had taken control of the situation -- and Hunter began assisting by helping to cordon off streets around the Department of Commerce.
Armed agents were dispatched around the van and on surrounding roofs -- for a four-hour standoff during a week of unprecedented security in the nation's capital.
"We made sure people in the Commerce Building, for example, knew that they should get away from front windows, to a sheltered place in a secure location or to an exit," Hunter said.
Tuesday's drama ended peacefully when the driver of the van gave himself up to police -- an apparently non-terrorism related event. (Full story)
The Federal Protective Service, part of the Department of Homeland Security, defends federal facilities.
As hundreds of thousands of people take part in Thursday's 55th presidential inauguration, the FPS is charged with protecting the hundreds of federal buildings in the Washington area -- any of which may be terrorist targets.
On a snowy Wednesday, Hunter and his uniformed colleagues were hunkered down in their mobile command center in downtown Washington, performing an informal evaluation of the previous night's standoff.
"We make sure that we keep our eyes and ears open for other incidents that might be occurring -- to see if this was a test by some terrorist group, either as a diversion tactic or an opportunity to test us to see what our response would be," Hunter said.
Additional agents -- both uniformed and under cover -- were dispatched to other federal facilities to ensure their safety.
Some 400 FPS agents are on duty in the Washington region during inauguration week, Hunter said.
The new mobile command center is a behemoth on the city's streets -- a boxy, fort-on-wheels carrying an array of video cameras and other surveillance equipment on its exterior and video screens and other digital displays on its interior. The FPS said the shell of the vehicle alone cost $250,000.
The truck acts as a safe place for agents to gather accurate intelligence during an event and to share and receive information with other law enforcement groups with other law enforcement authorities.
He takes a call from the Capitol Police to discuss the standoff, and how coordination went among the city's many authorities.
"I think that last night was every bit a success as far as coordination goes," said Hunter, 35, a veteran of FPS since 1991.
The Federal Protective Service and its two ultra-high-tech mobile command centers have been involved in securing many recent national events.
Those included last summer's Democratic and Republican conventions, the G-8 summit of the world's most industrial nations on Sea Island, Georgia, and last year's baseball World Series.