D.C. landmarks balance security with access

Bill Dowd, director for physical planning, NCPC

wfedstaff | June 4, 2015 11:01 am

Ensuring security is a top priority at federal buildings, especially in a post-9/11 world.

But federal buildings in D.C. are also national landmarks and major tourist destinations.

Bill Dowd, the director for physical planning at the National Capital Planning Commission, joined the Federal Drive to discuss the challenges in maintaining security without impacting the public’s accessibility to federal landmarks.

Dowd said after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, an interagency security group was created and charged with developing security standards for federal facilities.


However, the actual security measures taken are largely up to each federal facility.

The nation’s capital presents a bit of a challenge — between protecting buildings and ensuring access.

“Here in Washington, where we have so many buildings and the public space is so important, the National Capital Planning Commission is one of the agencies, who is involved in that balance between where those barriers go, what they look like and how they impact the public space,” Dowd said.

While maintaining security is an obvious public good, Dowd said there is value in ensuring people still have access to the halls of government.

“The open spaces represent our openness and our democracy and our access to government,” he said.

Balancing the two remains a “learning experience,” Dowd said.

“After 9/11, I think the threat environment was much higher and people were much more concerned and we gave maybe more leeway and swayed the pendulum more toward security,” he added. “Now, over time, we’re realizing what we’re losing in the public space — and design. And we’re making a greater effort to make sure that those public spaces are designed well.”