For POTUS visit, Secret Service most concerned about Austin roads

First lady Michelle Obama's dress is caught in the wind as she and President Barack Obama arrive at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Air Force One, Thursday, April 10, 2014, in Austin, Texas, en route to the LBJ Presidential Library to attend a Civil Rights Summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – After weeks of visits from advance teams, combined with years of experience briskly shuttling the world’s VIPs between urban venues, the US Secret Service is most concerned — at least publicly — about the limited capacity of Austin’s narrow roads ahead of Friday’s latest visit by President Barack Obama, KXAN has learned.

Resident Agent in Charge, Thomas Edwards, says a ‘tremendous amount of planning’ has gone into this visit where the President will visit the Long Center to address a South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival crowd of techies and entrepreneurs and share his vision for making government savvier and more accessible to more Americans.

But as the old expression goes, getting there is half the battle. First task for POTUS: deplaning from Air Force One likely at ABIA’s less crowded and easier-to-manage south terminal tarmac and giving the obligatory Presidential wave at the gaggle there to receive him on Austin, Texas soil. Then the President will travel in his familiar motorcade led by APD motorcycle officers, lights ablaze.

Barack Obama visits Austin in 2007 just days after announcing he will run for president.
Then Senator Barack Obama visits Austin in 2007 days after announcing he will run for president.

He is expected to coast past the paused construction near the airport and past rolling blockades courtesy of Austin police and its Executive Protection Unit, supported by other Central Texas law enforcement agencies.

Resident Agent in Charge Edwards is clear on his team’s biggest challenge: “The capacity of the roads to be able to handle the motorcades. And also the impacts of the movements of the President throughout such narrow streets especially as you talk [about] the downtown area or SXSW.”

Huh, sounds like the concerns of the average Austin commuter. We hear you, G-men.

Edwards points out the Secret Service which has its own  Presidential Protection Team coordinates very closely with police and emergency services. But then again this is South by. It’s unknown how many agents are in Austin for the presidential visit. You’ll probably bump into one or two at the festival and never know it.

“To have that many people at the same time the president is going to be here [in Austin] creates some challenges for all of us – [such as] road closures around the festival.”

He compares Obama at SXSW to the papal visit last year when the pontiff visited densely-populated cities like Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C.

Glad handing included

Made more complicated for the security teams’ route plans, the president’s seeming interest getting out of the black armored limo and shaking a few hands, fist bumping a few others as he did in July 2014 during a surprise visit to the famous Franklin’s BBQ.

Impromptu stops sound like a security nightmare.

But Edwards says: “It’s a benefit to our security plan if people don’t know the president will be going to different sites. So it actually works to our advantage.”

Better, he says than a planned destination, where concern on a finite number of possible routes is highest. But don’t think the Secret Service is about to tweet the President’s route. In fact, it could be changed at any time once he’s on the ground. The president’s route from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport won’t be made public.

President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One just before departing John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One just before departing John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

And if you’re ever looking for a way to have a stern-faced Secret Service agent crack a smile, ask them this:

When will you all be able to breathe again?

Resident Agent in Charge Edwards, smiling for the first time our interview, replied, “You know, hopefully right after he’s wheels up,” a reference to the president’s ride, the famous blue and white 747 bearing the presidential seal.

The president’s entourage is due to arrive in the ‘live music capital of the world’ Friday around 1:15 p.m.

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