President Clinton said Thursday in his millennium message that the turnover to the year 2000 is a rare moment in history that should be recognized. Friday night, he will be on the Mall to usher in the New Year amid some of the tightest security Washington has ever seen.
No specific threat has been leveled at the nation's capital, but officials are determined to let nothing slip by. That's why pre-dawn reports of a suspicious package at the Ronald Reagan building were met this morning with an all points bulletin.
It is a city that's on hyper alert. Even as the stars rehearsed for tomorrow night's gala, police were tightening the ring of security around the Mall. A two square-mile area will be closed to traffic in order to screen out car bombs.
Peter La Porte is the District's Director of Emergency Preparedness. Anything that happens these days runs through his command center. He admits to having some butterflies about tomorrow night, but says he prefers butterflies to being over confident.
The question that's on everybody's mind in Washington is whether the city will be safe. "Very much so," is La Porte' s reassuring reply. "We've done a lot of work and we do special events very well. And we'll be on full alert, but we expect everything to go very well."
City officials have been in almost constant contact with the FBI and Secret Service, and have consulted with the cities of Boston, New York and Chicago to compare notes. But even in this city, where security has become a way of life, they admit that, in today's society, nothing can be guaranteed.