Tag Archives: fortress

Will Secret Plans Make State Capitol a Fortress (again)?

A century and a half ago, the new Tennessee State Capitol was seized, fortified and transformed into Fortress Andrew Johnson by the Union Army during its Civil War occupation of Nashville.
Now, Richard Locker reports, the Capitol is becoming increasingly fortress-like again as a result of security measures already made and new ones under way.
State officials are keeping the details secret, but they include heightened security checkpoints, which already require citizens to produce photo IDs to enter, high-definition cameras inside and out, license-plate scanners and others not known.
Gov. Bill Haslam said he doesn’t know details of the security plan. “That funding decision was made by the Building Commission, not by us, and that’s really important to note. That being said, I would hope that part of the reason for additional security is to make it so people can still access the building instead of just sealing it off and saying, ‘I’m sorry, there’s too many security reasons why you can’t.'”
Security officials proposed X-ray body scanners but they were reportedly nixed in favor of less intrusive metal detectors first put up in 2001.
The 153-year-old State Capitol closed last week for an eight-month, $15.3 million renovation project that mostly involves new heating, air conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems and interior refurbishing.
But the State Building Commission also approved various unspecified “interior and exterior security upgrades” in November and February, after top officials of Haslam’s administration — Safety & Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons of Memphis and General Services Commissioner Steve Cates of Nashville — recommended a package of far-reaching upgrades. The “Master Security Plan” for the Capitol complex is confidential under state law.
The Building Commission is composed of Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, House Speaker Beth Harwell, Secretary of State Tré Hargett, State Treasurer David Lillard, Comptroller Justin Wilson and Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes. It approved the upgrades after private briefings and no public discussion.
State Architect Robert Oglesby referred questions to the General Services Department, where Assistant Commissioner Kelly Smith initially said she was unaware of any security components to the overall project. She later acknowledged them but would provide no details.
However, two sources familiar with the projects said they include upgrading the existing checkpoints and installing high-definition cameras throughout the interior of the Capitol, the Legislative Plaza Building where state legislative committee hearings are held, and the War Memorial Building, which houses legislative offices.
They also said powerful new cameras capable of recording close-up images of people will be installed outside the Capitol and atop nearby buildings for monitoring the public grounds outside the Capitol and War Memorial Plaza, a public square with fountains across from the Capitol that is the site of occasional protests.