Prepping for Obama, authorities amp up security

BY JORDAN FRIES | MARCH 24, 2010 7:30 AM

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Authorities are revamping security efforts in preparation for President Obama’s first trip to Iowa City as commander-in-chief on Thursday.

Obama will speak at 1 p.m. at the Field House for those 750 students and Iowa City residents and their guests who registered online and received tickets to attend the event. More than 10,000 community members applied for tickets to the event.

University of Iowa spokesman Tom Moore could not comment on security details, but he said the UI has been working closely with members of the Secret Service since March 19 in preparation for Obama’s arrival.

“We welcome the opportunity to facilitate such an important dialogue for the nation’s future,” Moore wrote in an e-mail.

Law-enforcement officials from the five local police forces that are cooperating with the Secret Service aren’t publicizing any proposed security measures because of safety concerns. However, Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine said almost all of his officers have experience with such high-profile events; then-President George W. Bush visited Iowa City in 2008 to survey flood damage, and Iowa City is a standard stop for presidential candidates.

But Hargadine said expectations are different for Obama because of the estimated crowd of roughly 3,000 and the inevitable surge of interest surrounding the noon landing of Air Force One in Cedar Rapids.

Authorities are expecting heavy congestion on the walkways and intersections surrounding the Field House throughout Thursday.

“This isn’t comparing apples to apples,” said Hargadine in describing the differences between visits by Bush and Obama. “We will incorporate similar strategies from the last visit, but things are going to be more spread out because of the airplane landing.”

As a candidate, Obama visited Iowa City numerous times between 2006 and early 2008, including for the unveiling of his health-care reform agenda in May 2007.

Bustling streets and hordes of people won’t be the sole greeting that awaits Obama once his plane touches the tarmac.

Hargadine said police anticipate several protests occurring both before and during Obama’s speech.

Hargadine said he isn’t worried yet about any protesters becoming violent or causing any unforeseen problems.

“This hasn’t affected our planning at all,” he said. “Any time the president comes to speak, protests are going to be expected.”

Editor's note appended 03/24/10:

A previous version of this article contained quotes from a source that former reporter Jordan Fries never interviewed. Fries is no longer employed by The Daily Iowan, which regrets the error.

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