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Ahead of Star Spangled Spectacular, Baltimore zeros in on security, traffic logistics

The buzz will start downtown early next week before growing to a roar a few days later as the harbor fills with tall ships, the skies with flashy jet formations and the city's largest tourist attractions with massive crowds.

More than a million visitors are expected to attend a week of War of 1812 bicentennial Star-Spangled Spectacular events in Baltimore starting Tuesday, and many thousands more will be on hand for unrelated events such as the Ravens-Steelers game on Thursday night and home Orioles games that include a double-header next Friday.

Mixed in with the crowds will be an army of state, local and federal personnel from a slew of agencies, all tapped to provide security, crowd control and transportation management amid the rapid swelling of the downtown population.

"It's going to be an event and a week like Baltimore's never seen before, and because of that we put in a lot of time and effort to make sure that it's going to be a seamless experience and as enjoyable an experience as possible for all the visitors we have," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said of the impending celebration of Francis Scott Key's drafting of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Key wrote what became the national anthem aboard a ship in Baltimore's harbor in 1814, amid the Battle of Baltimore, as he watched the American flag at Fort McHenry fly defiantly before a thwarted British fleet.

Event planners said they hope those in attendance get similarly inspired by the wide array of events planned, from tall ship tours to a fireworks display to flyovers by the Navy's Blue Angels. There also will be a televised event at Fort McHenry, a march of 500 Maryland National Guard members along the historic route of the Maryland Militia during the war and a concert of patriotic music at Pier 6.

As with past major events in the city — such as the Star-Spangled Sailabration kickoff to the bicentennial that drew 1.5 million in 2012 — police, traffic and emergency management officials will begin a round-the-clock "unified command" operation overseeing downtown and South Baltimore as the events get underway, with top officials issuing orders from stationary and mobile command centers equipped with the latest in telecommunications equipment.

"We are the model for other jurisdictions. They come to see how we handle large crowds as well as unified operations," said Rawlings-Blake, noting her "directive" to operational leaders through the week will be "to make sure that tradition continues."

Bill Pencek, executive director of the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission, said he is confident the city is ready to meet the challenge.

"We will have hundreds, if not thousands, of people on the front lines. … We joke that we call it 'Star-Spangled 200' because there have been 200 meetings getting ready," he said. "I hope that the mood is as buoyant and jubilant as it was during Sailabration. I have no reason to think it won't be. It was a really special atmosphere [then], and I'm just looking forward to, again, people coming down to the water's edge ... and realizing truly how special this place is."

Lt. Col. Melissa Hyatt of the Baltimore Police Department said police have been "planning for months and months to make sure that everyone is able to come and have a safe and enjoyable time."

Visitors should expect a larger-than-normal police presence at all of the events and should feel comfortable asking those officers for assistance and information, as they all have been briefed on the scheduled events, she said.

"The officers will really be ambassadors of the event and will be happy to assist," Hyatt said.

As with other major events since the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon, attendees will not be allowed to carry large bags and will be limited to one clear, gallon-sized bag per person and one small clutch-type bag.

Hyatt noted that the event website — starspangled200.com — features an FAQ section that includes a list of permissible and prohibited items, and other information about the event.

She said the bicentennial events will not affect police presence in other parts of the city. "It's being handled essentially as a modular event outside of regular city deployment, so there will be absolutely no effect on deployment throughout the rest of the city," she said.

With so many people coming into the city, transportation officials also advise visitors — and regular commuters — to check the event website for information about parking and traffic restrictions and public transit options throughout the week.

"Our message basically to everyone is, 'Come have fun, but expect there will be a lot going on.' It will be busy," said Frank Murphy, a senior adviser to the Baltimore Department of Transportation.

The department is preparing for several road closures, which it will outline in detail in coming days, and plans to ramp up enforcement of residential-only parking restrictions near M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

"In order for this to work, people do have to pay attention to the transportation options, and they really can't just wing it when it comes to parking," Rawlings-Blake said. "They have to get advance information on where parking will be permissible."

In addition to neighborhoods around the stadiums and downtown, another area where congestion could arise is in Locust Point along Fort Avenue, Murphy said, where traffic headed toward Fort McHenry will be stopped at Andre Street.

Shuttles will be available to take people from the Inner Harbor to Andre Street, but visitors to the fort will have to walk the half-mile from Andre Street to the park's entrance. Those with disabilities will be provided with an additional bus service, either from the Inner Harbor or Andre Street, to the park's gates.

A maximum of 25,000 people will be permitted on the Fort McHenry grounds at any given time — about 9,000 more than its capacity during the 2012 Sailabration — and all will be required to pass through metal detectors before entering, Pencek said.

There won't be metal detectors at the Inner Harbor or other sites for viewing the Blue Angels and the fireworks. The Coast Guard will enforce a "temporary safety zone" on the Patapsco River and the Inner Harbor from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 11 to Sept. 14 that will limit or prohibit navigation for commercial and recreational boats, as part of the Blue Angels flyovers.

The Coast Guard will enforce an even larger safety zone from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sept. 13, during the fireworks. Those seeking permission to travel in the area must contact the Coast Guard at 410-576-2624 or using marine-band radio via VHF-FM Channel 16.

The fireworks will be fired from six barges in the Inner Harbor. Boats already mooring or at a berth in the restricted zone before its implementation will not be forced to move.

Street closures will be introduced across the city as different events are held throughout the week, including the National Guard march and for the Mercy Foot & Ankle Run to Remember on Sept. 14.

"Obviously when you have a bunch of exciting events, there is going to be a draw, and traffic," Murphy said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this article.

krector@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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