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Since construction completed on the White House in 1800, architectural renovations have been ongoing, from major construction projects such as the East and West Wings to less structural improvements such as the addition of a single-lane bowling alley or solar panels on the roof. While many of these renovations were undergone to expand the living and work spaces or personalize the décor, a growing need for security also warranted updates to the existing building and surrounding grounds. Even as recently as July 2015, a temporary solution of sharp metal spikes was added along the top of the fence encircling the White House to deter individuals from climbing. The fence itself was not original and while, since the time of Thomas Jefferson, some form of fence was utilized, public access to the White House grounds became much more restricted after World War II.
In the 1950s, during a massive reconstruction of the interior of the White House, a system of underground tunnels and bunkers was also built to enable the president and his staff a quick exit during an emergency situation. There is even a trap door underneath the desk in the Oval Office.
Retrofitting the White House with Bulletproof Glass
Though crews have never been seen replacing the exterior windows of the White House, a 2011 shooting incident confirmed the presence of bulletproof glass windows. Jim Richards, CEO of Total Security Solutions, has experience retrofitting ballistic glass in historic government buildings in and around Washington, DC and has found that backing existing windows with a second ballistic layer is almost the norm. “It’s probably the easiest thing to do when you’re going back through with a retro fit. A lot of times, with a historical building exterior, they want to keep that look, so instead of having to tear out glass, rebuild mullions, add structural members to support the added weight, it’s a lot easier to just lay in the transparency behind the existing windows.”
Access Control at the White House
Access control is another area in which the White House has cracked down on security. At one time, even as recent as the 1980s, it was not uncommon for 6,000+ visitors to make their way through the White House, creating a potential security threat. Tickets were in extremely high demand and were often sold by scalpers at a much higher price. After September 11, 2001, however, tours were suspended. While they have been reinstated for periods on and off since that time, to arrange a tour of the White House currently, you must work through a member of Congress and it can often take up to six months to gain access.
Photo courtesy of Fox6Now.com
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