President-elect Barack Obama is retracing the inaugural train route taken by fellow Illinoisan Abraham Lincoln and is scheduled to appear with Vice President-elect Joe Biden in War Memorial Plaza across from City Hall.
The Baltimore appearance, scheduled to begin at 4:15, is expected to be the largest event of a whistlestop tour carrying the president-elect to his inauguration Tuesday in Washington. The Presidential Inauguration Committee chose Baltimore because of the War of 1812 bombardment that inspired Francis Scott Key to write 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'
With temperatures expected to remain well below freezing for today's visit, Baltimore officials are urging parents to keep children younger than 6 away from the outdoor event at War Memorial Plaza, and are recommending that adults 60 and older consider watching from the safety of indoors.
"We are very concerned that people who come out and wind up waiting for hours are at high risk of developing hypothermia," Baltimore Health Commissioner Joshua M. Sharfstein said at a news conference that was held outdoors yesterday to stress the cold. "We don't want people in the midst of this important celebration to be suffering."
The city plans to close several blocks around the plaza before the event; the single entrance, at the intersection of Baltimore Street and Guilford Avenue, is scheduled to open at 1 p.m.
With as many as 150,000 expected to show up for the event in a plaza that holds only 30,000, and forecasters predicting a high today of 22 degrees, officials anticipate long waits in the cold. While medical workers will be on hand, Sharfstein said that they were 'not a substitute for prevention.'
"If people aren't prepared, we could have a big, big problem," Fire Chief James J. Clack said. "Especially near where the president-elect is going to be, we'll have limited resources."
Stephen Schenkel, who chairs the department of emergency medicine at Mercy Medical Center, offered what he called "the most motherly of advice.'"
"If you think you have enough on, put on another layer,? he said. "It's cold." Schenkel also warned attendees away from alcohol, which does nothing to warm the body but decreases awareness of the cold.
John P. Stewart, executive director of the city commission on aging, said those 60 and older who are planning to attend should bring a family member or caregiver "and make sure you do not hesitate to ask for help if you have any concerns about your health."
Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III urged those planning to attend to consider watching the event from the video screens to be set up in the Inner Harbor.