Have a Resilient Inauguration Week Trip to DC

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Monday, January 16, 2017

So you’re going to Washington! Whether you are traveling to the nation’s capital for a party, a protest, or just to be present, one thing is for sure: you will need to be resilient. Anything can happen in a city on a normal day, but let’s admit it: this week, Washington, DC will be a special case. Really and truly — anything is possible.

Things may go just swimmingly. Hopefully that’s the case. It would be prudent, though, to take a quick gander at the risk landscape.

There is the 2017 Presidential Inauguration, which is a complex event all in itself. There are protests scheduled (and likely unscheduled) before, during, and after the inauguration. There will be lots of folks in the city who aren’t from around the area, and who may not particularly care for some of the the other folks who are in the city who are also not from around the area. Some people will be protesting right next to other people who are protesting and/or celebrating. A lot of these same folks are going to have to stand in line for bathrooms, food, and the subway.

There is the persistent risk of obnoxious people, who are disruptive just for the sake of it. There is the ever-looming threat of terrorism that hangs over major events — and especially those events where large crowds are gathered.

Resilience is about being able to get through tough stuff, and being able to bounce back. In this case, being mentally ready may be as useful as a bit of physical preparation — and the right clothes and footwear. No matter what happens during inauguration week, it will be helpful if you build some resilience into your journey.

The Basics: Your People & Your Plan

The best source for official information about logistics, transportation, bathrooms, restrictions, security, and whatnot is from the District of Columbia. READ THIS BEFORE YOU GO.

Have a plan with your people that you’re traveling with that considers the things in this article — and those on the official DC page. Military research on firefighters shows that we tend to react to an unexpected situation or emergency first based on prior similar experiences. If we haven’t experienced something yet, we react based on any similar training, or based on something we might have seen on TV. We may also react based on a scenario we have discussed. We are better prepared to react in an emergency if we have thought about what we might do ahead of time.

Talk with the people you are traveling with, and go through some potential scenarios. Make sure everyone in your group has hard-copy information on their person about how to reach parents/legal guardians, the location where you are staying, a group name that you are traveling with, critical phone numbers, and your home address.

We can counter our fear of the unexpected by being more prepared for it. We can prepare our families and friends for it as well by bringing up the discussion.

Cover the basics. Charge your phone. Wear warm clothes. Print maps. Know where you’re going. Have a plan in case you get separated from your people, or lose cell service or charge. Don’t do dumb stuff. Be nice.

Expect the unexpected.

Be Ready for Big Crowds & Long Lines

This advice may sound obvious, but it will help to get your head around it before you join in on whatever gathering you are headed to. Crowds and lines cause stress. That’s just a fact. Add political or other tension, and you’ve got more stress. Happiness, smiling, and graciousness go a long way in tense situations. Being overtly nice spreads in a crowd. We see our humanity.

You’ll see some humanity, because wherever you are could well be super jam-packed. Things will be long: long lines, long walks around barricades, long waits, long walks, and more long lines. You may be standing for a long, long time. It may be colder than you expect. You may have to walk farther than you might think. For real. You may have to wait for a train for an hour.

People could be grouchy.

Putting yourself in the mental head-space to deal with some of this before you go in may make it less surprising when you’re actually there. That can put you in a better mood to deal with whatever unexpected chaos comes your way. People who are in a decent mood will be a good thing all around no matter what the activity is.

You may have said you’re coming “for the experience.” This is the experience. If you are ready for it, you’ll much more likely enjoy it.

Expect Infrastructure Outages & Service Changes

Our infrastructure is resilient up to a point. When we stress it, sometimes it fails.

Have a back-up plan in case your cell signal dies, the electrical power goes out, or the subway (WMATA, locally referred to as “the Metro”) stops running.

These are not imaginary scenarios. The regional subway system was shut down on 9/11, and people had to find another way out of the city. Many people walked. Far.

Cellular systems were overloaded across the entire national capital region (NCR) in 2011 when a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck an area 90 miles southwest of Washington, DC. This was not a major emergency for the NCR, yet it overloaded the cellular capacity. Even with likely cellular surge capacity for the inauguration event, if there are any major developments in the region — it’s possible that cellular capacity could be exceeded.

You can be ready for this by considering it ahead of time. Make sure everyone in your group has written hard-copy information with an address and time(s) to meet later in case you get separated, have a dead battery, or lose cell service. On inauguration day, there will be reunification tents around the national mall. You may not have access to the information you are used to getting from your mobile device if the cellular capacity becomes limited.

Bring or print hard-copy maps of the cities you will be in. You can buy these in a bookstore before you travel, or perhaps once you get here (less likely, plus it adds a step). Your hotel or rental car company may have rough maps or tourism advertising maps. It is better to have something in hand than nothing. Here is a District of Columbia (DC) Walking Map to print before you travel, or to print from your hotel. DC is bordered by various cities and counties in Virginia and Maryland. A “big picture” map of the National Capital Region (NCR) is here.

Get an app for the subway system (like “DC Metro Transit”), and sign up for email or text alerts here. Text alerts are recommended, as they can travel on the basic cellular signal and do not require data service. Other transportation information is available on the official DC inauguration page here, and you can get the full Joint Transportation Plan here.

Print or get a hard-copy map of the subway (color map here). This may be handy later in the day when your cell battery is dead after you live-streamed video for too long, and you don’t want to walk any further than absolutely necessary.

Plan for a low cell battery — have any critical information you need written down as well — and bring it with you. Bring a battery back-up charger thing; but make sure it’s not on the prohibited items list (which can change at the last minute).

If you are having trouble getting and receiving messages or calls, try SMS. It uses minimal data and is more likely to get through (but not guaranteed).

Subways, trains, and buses will be running on special schedules for some of the time, and some subway stations may be closed. Many roads will be closed, and a surprising number of barriers will pop up around the city at various points. Check the DC website for the basics.

The Practical: What to Bring

Bring both cash and at least one major credit card if possible — for the most flexibility.

Bring food, meds for the day, and water if it’s not on the prohibited items list , and clothing layers.

Don’t bring stuff you don’t want to haul around all day. Because: you will be super sick of that stuff by the end of the day. Water bottles are handy to have around.


Humans need food, water, and bathrooms on a pretty frequent basis. These things may or may not be easily accessible, depending on where you are during inauguration week and what you’re doing. Do yourself a favor: avoid caffeine, stay hydrated, and bring food and fluids with you as long as they are not on the prohibited items list where you are going.

Be Aware: Get Alerted

Good situational awareness can help you stay resilient — especially in an evolving situation. There are several ways to keep up; having more than one “channel” can give more depth or context if needed.

You can get regional inauguration text messages via Nixle by texting “INAUG” to short code 888777.

You may receive Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) for major emergencies in the area if your device is WEA-enabled. WEA alerts are delivered to phones within a certain area based on the impacted cell towers. If you have disabled WEAs on your phone to stop getting Amber Alerts, you will need to turn it back on.

You can sign up for local NCR emergency alerts via SMS, email, app, or other delivery methods for any jurisdiction in the NCR. If you sign up, make sure to keep track of your login information so you can un-subscribe after your trip. Separate log-ins are required for each jurisdiction.

See the infrastructure section above for info on WMATA alerts.

Local agencies involved in the inauguration will be posting relevant information on Twitter and Facebook, using the hashtag #Inaug2017. The District of Columbia will be posting the latest inauguration updates on Twitter, via @Inaug2017 (you can also turn on notifications for @Inaug2017 after following it). Some interagency partners’ Twitter handles are listed here; scroll way, way down on the page to “Social Media.”

Take a 5-Minute Break

In any tense or stressful situation, sometimes it helps to just take a time-out. If you find that your stress level is getting uncomfortable, you can take steps to shift it.

If you can, stop what you are doing. Step to the side of a crowd, but don’t lose your group. You may want to just tell your people that you need a quick minute.

Take in the world around you. Notice your own actions. Notice your mental state. Find something beautiful within your line of site, or think of something you are grateful for. Check in with your body. Tensing your entire body purposefully is a good way to quickly relax stressed muscles in a quick moment.

A time-out can help with a shift, and a little shift can go a long way. If you were navigating an ocean, a half-degree shift can make an entire continent of difference when you get half-a-world away from where you started.

Embrace Your Humanity

We all know this could be a very interesting week in the nation’s capital. We all have the capacity to diffuse the energy of tense situations. Sometimes we can just walk away. Sometimes we can’t; because of long lines and super-crowded areas.

We can set our own intentions for how we interact with people before we even begin our journey. We can update our intentions for each situation. We can take a step back from a situation that makes us uncomfortable. We can check in with our personal integrity as needed.

Sometimes, just taking a 5-minute break yourself is enough to diffuse the energy of a situation you are involved in. There are lots of tools, though, for tricky situations.

It’s no big spoiler to mention that Harry Potter’s go-to magic spell is the “Disarming Charm.” That “charm” is a great metaphor for potentially tense situations (metaphor is the key operational phrase here; do not try to actually disarm an armed person).

One way to disarm folks is to be, in fact, charming — when they are not. Compliments may be the easiest mechanism. “Well I just love those boots! I would love to know where you got them. Now how far have you folks walked today?”

Being gracious disarms as well. Let folks pass in front of you, or have your seat. Offer to help in some small way. Embrace humanity.

A smile goes a thousand miles.

If we can stay grounded — even during tense situations — we are inherently more resilient. That may well be the kind of resilience you need during your travels this week. After this week, you will have built more resilience, because that’s how you get resilience: you build it.

Plus, after navigating a busy, crowded, and possibly tense national capital along with some folks you may not agree with, you may have a better sense for how to successfully do that at home and online in the future.

“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, ‘You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.’” The quote is from the movie An American President. The movie’s title certainly fits the theme for the week, and probably the reason you are coming to DC in the first place.

United we stand.

Enjoy Your Journey

No matter the reason you are in Washington, DC this week: you will be part of history. If you have never been in the area, take a look around. This is a city of American icons, monuments, and history. If you haven’t been a part of the city’s history yet — now’s your chance.

Make it count.

May we find harmony in the crowd, for we are all souls.

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This article was posted on 1/15/2017 on Medium.

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