Security Theater At The National Zoological Park

While it’s usually referred to as the National Zoo, it has been an open-to-the-public park for years. But never fear, the security hyperventilators are here! (boldface mine)

Any good zoo has lots of fencing and cages to keep animals in. D.C.’s National Zoo wants to add even more—as part of an effort to tighten and streamline security for its human visitors.

The Smithsonian Institution, which manages the zoo, has submitted a plan to the National Capital Planning Commission to add more perimeter fencing around the zoo, and to reduce the number of pedestrian entrances from 13 to three. The NCPS will review the proposal next Thursday.

In a future phase of the project, the Smithsonian plans to build security checkpoints at entrances, according to NCPS documents that summarize the plan. It will also start construction soon on a multistory garage with over 1,000 spaces for cars that eventually will add an additional entrance.

What we are doing is catching up to what everybody else has been doing,” Pamela Baker-Masson, the zoo’s associate director of communications, exhibits and planning, told WAMU. “Our whole institution realized we had to do a better job about visitor security,” she said.

The National Zoo is the only public Smithsonian without permanent security screening. The proposal states that the entrance will “maintain its welcoming feel while providing a clear threshold between the public sidewalk and the Zoo’s Olmstead Walk.”

Under the proposed plan, visitors on foot would be able to access the zoo only through three pedestrian entrances: the Connecticut Avenue entry, a bus lot off North Road and the Lower Zoo Entry on the zoo’s eastern edge. The security-screening checkpoint at Connecticut Avenue will include four screening stations with magnetometers.

The zoo also plans to add stronger fencing to certain areas of its perimeter. The fences would be 12 feet tall and thick enough to keep cars from crashing through them.

The proposed security checkpoints drew some criticism on social media. The zoo has long been praised for its open door policy, which allows out-of-town visitors and locals alike to wander in and out.

Consider the fencing, which appears to be an anti-car bomber measure. There is no reason to believe that the National Zoo faces such a threat–or that it ever will. But when you combine the need for security personnel managers to justify their continuing existence with an extreme aversion to risk by most federal agencies, the result is that security measures keep getting racheted up (security measures are never relaxed, only maintained as is or increased). After all, if a car bomber did strike the National Zoo, then having opposed the fencing would be politically damaging.

While this rachet is happening everywhere, this silliness is particularly acute in D.C., where many formerly easily accessible public institutions have experienced this security rachet. We need to stop fearing everything all the time. We have become a nation of chickenshit cowards. At some point, we need to say enough.

To do that, you can sign this petition organized by GreaterGreaterWashington, and also leave submit a comment at the NCPC site here (the Project is “National Zoological Park Supplemental Perimeter Fencing”; the NCPC File Numberis 7986; the agency is the Smithsonian Institution).

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1 Response to Security Theater At The National Zoological Park

  1. Bern says:

    Just downloaded the plan yesterday. It is ~98% pathetic (there’s one good idea to close a parking lot).

    The fearmongering is offensive.

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