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The Smithsonian's National Zoo's attendance varies greatly throughout the year varying from a few hundred visitors per day in January to more than 25,000 visitors per day in April. To safely and securely handle the crowds, the Zoo coordinates with several security entities including Smithsonian Office of Protective Services, the Metropolitan Police Department, the U.S. Park Police, Metro Transit Police and the security units of D.C. Public Schools and the D.C. juvenile Court System.

Security in any large urban environment today is challenging. The Zoo faces particular problems during high visitation periods, including March and April, when the spring-break period for local school systems overlaps with increased visitation. Following the shooting that took place on Connecticut Ave last April and previous incidents in or near the Zoo, the Smithsonian Director of the Office of Protection Services (OPS) and Smithsonian's National Zoo Director consulted with several groups and the local community to develop solutions.

After months of study, a report by a security consultant and an analysis of the site, the directors of the Zoo and Smithsonian security concluded that the best course of action is to implement temporary access controls" on high visitation days. 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. These measures, which may vary by day and event, are similar to those procedures employed by Smithsonian museums.

This temporary access control philosophy is similar to that used by U.S. Park Police during large scale special events to include the annual July 4th celebration on the National Mall. The Zoo is preparing to implement this security solution this spring.

The implementation of temporary access controls is the most feasible, cost-effective solution, with the intention of eliminating violence, especially from individuals and groups with concealed weapons, in and around the Zoo during high capacity days. The success of this solution will depend on good communication with the surrounding communities, as well as broad communication of the existence of these controls to the general public.

We will continue to keep you informed about this important initiative.


Dennis Kelly