Woodley Park Community Association Meeting: Feb. 10, 2020


On Monday, Feb. 10, Smithsonian’s National Zoo officials attended a Woodley Park Community Association meeting organized by councilmember Mary Cheh from 7 to 8 p.m. at Stanford (2661 Connecticut Ave, NW). In this meeting, presenters and WPCA members discussed safety and security at the Zoo following the Nov. 30, 2019, incident during ZooLights.


Presentations were given by Mary Cheh, council member for Ward 3; Courtney Tolbert, WPCA president; Steve Monfort, director of Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute; and Duncan Bedlion, Second District Commander at the Metropolitan Police Department.

Also in attendance for the Zoo were Troy Covington, chief of the National Zoological Park Police; Mike Reese, deputy director of Smithsonian Office of Public Safety; and Pamela Baker-Masson, Associate Director of Communications and Exhibits.

Following the presentations, attendees were given the opportunity to ask questions.

Overview of Dr. Monfort’s presentation:

ZooLights Incident

  • The safety and security of the visitors, staff and animals are the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s No. 1 priority.
  • At times when the Zoo experiences unusually high traffic—such as Spring Break—additional screening and bag checks have been implemented.
  • ZooLights is one among many events at the Zoo that is free and open to the public.
  • In the 13 years that the Zoo has hosted this event, the first incident of violence occurred Nov. 30, 2019.
  • Following this incident, the Zoo acknowledges that the stakes have been raised.
  • In response to the Nov. 30 incident, the Zoo implemented screening and bag checks by the following Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.
  • Moving forward, the Zoo is adjusting its safety and security plan.
  • It will be at the Director’s discretion—based on intelligence, credible data and recommendations from Smithsonian security experts, among other criteria—when the Zoo will implement screening.
  • The Zoo has no plans to implement permanent, full-time screening.
  • For the majority of the year, the Zoo will remain open as usual (i.e. screening will not be implemented).
  • However, it is clear from the recent ZooLights incident that it is necessary for us to have more security in place for this event and possibly for additional large, free public events where staff anticipate large, dense crowds.
  • At this time, the Zoo does not plan to enact enhanced security measures for ticketed events because staff will have a firm idea of the number of attendees.
  • It is unrealistic to expect the Zoo to be fully secure if permanent screening stations are not added.
  • In Fall 2018, the neighborhoods surrounding the Zoo overwhelmingly opposed adding permanent security structures at the Zoo’s main entrances following design submissions to the National Capital Planning Commission.
  • Because the Zoo does not have permanent structures in place, the temporary screening is incredibly costly to implement. 
  • Every time the Zoo erects enhanced screening, the average cost is $150,000

Current Security Enhancements

  • Since 2016, on a temporary basis, the Zoo has successfully reduced its pedestrian entrances during spring break.
  • On March 7, 2019, the Zoo received combined preliminary and final approval from the National Capital Planning Commission for its perimeter fencing plan.
  • The number of pedestrian entrances will be reduced from 13 to six: (1) Connecticut Avenue; (2) Lower Zoo / Harvard Street; and (3) Bus Parking Lot (4) Parking Lot A (5) Parking Lot B and (6) Parking Lot C
  • The perimeter fence is under construction now.
  • The bulk of the construction—at the top and middle of the Zoo—is on schedule and will be completed by early fall.
  • The lower fence—near the bottom of the Zoo—is on schedule and will be completed by the end of the year.
  • Limiting the number of ways people enter the Zoo will enhance security and safety year-round.
  • During high-visitation periods or when there is an increased threat level, the Zoo implements temporary “access controls” to safely and securely handle crowds.
  • Controlled access means the Zoo will conduct bag checks and other forms of visitor screening, as well as restrict the number of people entering the Zoo.
  • Security personnel conduct a thorough but speedy hand-check of all bags, strollers, briefcases, purses and containers. Visitors may also be hand-screened with an electronic wand.
  • These measures, which may vary by day and event, are similar to procedures employed by Smithsonian museums.

Zoo Police and Local Law Enforcement Partnership

  • Zoo Police have increased coordination with their external police partners—MPD-2, MPD-3, Metro Transit Police and National Park Police.
  • This is key to enacting an effective emergency preparedness plan and response when incidents occur.
  • Zoo Police are working with watch commanders of neighboring agencies to assess the situation/call for resources as needed.
  • Intel and emergency response coordination from these agencies continues to become more refined.
  • Zoo Police are committed to working closely with MPD to receive training on monitoring youth social media. Training is scheduled for March 4, 2020.  
  • Zoo Police will alert MPD, Metro Transit Police and Park Police whenever the Zoo has major public events to have as many eyes and ears on the scene—and advanced notice of potentially problematic situations — as possible. In 2020, spring break for DC, MD and VA public schools spans April 4 through April 20.
  • April 13 is the Zoo’s “Earth Optimism on Easter Monday” event.
  • In 2020, “ZooLights” may run Nov. 27 though Jan. 1, 2021.

For Neighbors and Local Business Owners

  • Download the LiveSafe app on mobile devices to receive dispatches/notifications from the Zoo Police as incidents occur in real time.
  • In addition, the Zoo will look into setting up an email or text alert system with the neighborhood businesses to improve emergency notification distribution.
  • Follow the Zoo on Twitter @NationalZoo for updates regarding late openings, early closings and other notifications.

Final Thoughts

  • The Zoo remains committed to ensuring the safety and security of our community, visitors, staff and animals.
  • The Zoo is reviewing all major public program events spanning 2020 to determine if enhanced security should be implemented for additional events.
  • The Neighborhood News section of the website is a great resource for neighbors that are curious about Zoo projects and other relevant info. Updates are posted quarterly.
  • The Zoo welcomes the opportunity to hear from its neighbors. Comments, questions and concerns can be submitted via email to: NZP-CommunityOutreach@si.edu.