published Saturday, July 27th, 2013

Security officials get ready for Obama's visit to Chattanooga

President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Mo., in this file photo.
President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Mo., in this file photo.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

INVITATION ONLY

The president's speech at Amazon will be for distribution center employees and invited guests. The event is not open to the public. Live coverage of the event will be available at TimesFreePress.com.

JUST IN CASE

"As the region's only Level 1 Trauma Center, Erlanger's medical staff is prepared to care for anyone requiring general to traumatic medical assistance. Hospital officials are aware the president has plans to be in the Chattanooga area Tuesday. All divisions of the health system, from our medical to our security teams, are on standby in the event they are needed," said Jennifer Homa, a public relations specialist for Erlanger hospital.

With the president's visit to Chattanooga just days away, security officials are working to plan his route and how his security will be handled.

"It's a big deal for Chattanooga. ... We don't get visits. Some cities he goes to a lot, and we just don't get them," said Donna Job, resident agent in charge at the Chattanooga office of the U.S. Secret Service.

President Barack Obama's visit Tuesday will be his first in the Scenic City since he took office as president. He has plans to tour the Amazon distribution center as part of his cross-country tour aimed at jump-starting his economic agenda.

"Obviously, we're working with the police department, the sheriff's department and the fire department. We depend on them a lot for help with this," she said. "As a group, we try to meet citizens' needs and security of the president all at the same time. We come up with a plan that we all feel comfortable with that serves both purposes."

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office dignitary protection unit will assist with security, said Sheriff Jim Hammond. The unit was created a couple of years ago.

"Our unit has been asked to assist the Secret Service. At what level or what role it will be is still being kept under wraps," he said.

It's unclear which route the president will take when traveling from the Chattanooga Airport to Amazon in the Enterprise South industrial park.

Secret Service staff members are working on that, but "we wouldn't disclose the routes," Job said.

That's something that won't be disclosed until last minute to local law enforcement.

"We don't have details," said Chattanooga Police Traffic Sgt. David Gibb. "They don't tell us until they get here. They only thing we do is cancel personal days and have everyone prepared."

He said in past presidential visits, traffic on selected roads temporarily was shut down. Officers run from one location to another to aid with escorting the presidential motorcade. They prepare for a couple of hours and then wait for the motorcade to emerge. At high speeds, the motorcade runs through secure routes.

"I'm sure there are some [officers] who are excited about it," Gibb said.

Traffic counts from the Tennessee Department of Transportation find that 68,803 vehicles use the stretch of state Highway 153 near the Chattanooga airport each day. For Interstate 75 near Volkswagen Drive, the daily average is 83,261 vehicles.

Job said she doesn't anticipate motorists being inconvenienced on roads Tuesday.

"There won't be a point where I can imagine we would stop you from going any specific place. I mean other than for small periods of time. We try to make it impact people the least and balance that out with security," she said. "I don't think people will see that much of an impact. I really don't."

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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