White House getting taller, stronger fence to ward off intruders

Tourists may find it harder to get that perfect snap of the White House after construction begins this summer on a new 13-foot fence, almost double its current height, to help keep intruders out.

The Secret Service says a $64 million US construction project will begin soon on what eventually will be a 13-foot, one-inch (3.96-metre) fence with wider and stronger pickets. The existing fence stands about six-feet, six inches (1.83-metres) tall. The agency, which protects the president, declined to discuss details of the state-of-the-art features it says will be part of the new barrier.

The National Park Service, which provides care and upkeep for the White House and its 7.3 hectares of grounds, has also been involved in the project.

The fence design won approval in 2017 from both the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission. A contract was awarded in June 2018 for $64 million. Active construction, once it begins in the summer, is expected to continue into 2021, the Secret Service said.

The new fence will have an additional inch of space between pickets, for a total of 5½ inches (12.7 centimetres) between posts.

Initial construction will focus on the fence around the White House and its immediate surroundings. Later construction will bring improvements to fences around the Treasury Department and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, located on either side of the White House.

Omar Gonzalez was identified by authorities as the man who got into the White House after scaling a fence on Sept. 19, 2014. (Jerry Murphy/Associated Press)

Security breaches

Officials concluded that a taller fence was needed after a series of White House security breaches, including in September 2014, when a Texas man carrying a knife scaled the fence, sprinted across the North Lawn and entered the White House. That incident led security officials to put in place a second shorter barrier — made of metal bike racks — several feet in front of the current fence. Potential jumpers would essentially have separate fences to scale — the bike racks and the actual fence.

The added security has kept tourists from taking photos of the historic building without the fence showing up in their frames.

An “anti-climb” feature consisting of sharp metal points was put atop the fence in July 2015 to make it difficult to climb.

Security officials also restricted public access to sidewalks and adjoining areas south of the White House in 2017, shortly after President Donald Trump took office, after a California man carrying mace climbed the executive mansion’s fence and roamed the grounds for about 17 minutes before Secret Service officers discovered him.

Trump was at the White House at the time.

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