DANVILLE — So far, the chain-link fences and concrete barriers hemming streets around Centre College are the most visible signs of beefed-up security for Thursday’s vice presidential debate.
Starting Tuesday, key roads around the campus will begin closing. After getting on campus to attend Thursday’s Debate Festival or to pontificate at Speakers’ Park, people should be prepared to have their bags and parcels searched, officials warned.
It’s a different world than it was 12 years ago, when Centre hosted its first vice presidential debate. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, security for such public events was increased dramatically.
“There is more extensive fencing and concrete barriers as opposed to 2000,” said Clarence Wyatt, professor of history and co-chairman of Centre’s debate committee. “Without going into details, it’s fair to say that all aspects of planning for and executing this debate are much more complex than it was in 2000.”
Centre and the Kentucky State Police are remaining mum about many of the security details for the debate, other than to say that much of the security will be handled by the U.S. Secret Service. State police and other agencies are assisting.
Still, Wyatt said most of the security measures are not meant to be intrusive.
“We want everyone to come to the Debate Festival and have a good time,” Wyatt said. “We want it to be a celebration of the democratic process.”
State police Capt. Lisa Rudzinski said people should plan ahead before visiting downtown Danville on Thursday or in the days leading up the debate.
Rudzinski said state police want people to know that there are no public tickets to the debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan. But there will be opportunities to view the debate on large screens at the Debate Festival, near the corner of West Main Street and Maple Avenue.
Rudzinski encouraged attendees to park away from downtown and ride a shuttle provided by the city. Shuttles will run from 9 a.m. to midnight on Thursday. Pickup points are at First Baptist Church on U.S. 127 and the First Christian Church on Lexington Avenue.
“We have created some obstacles,” Rudzinski said of the road closings. “But we’re trying to give people as much notice as possible of these changes so it will create the least disruption as possible.”
The festival begins at noon and features popular musical artists and groups, including Ben Sollee and The Marshall Tucker Band. The debate will be broadcast live at 9 p.m. on large screens.
Attendees will be prevented from bringing certain items, including weapons, coolers, alcoholic beverages, protest signs, grills or tents. Those who wish to speak or protest are encouraged to sign up for a speaking time at Speaker’s Park off Russell Street, where a stage and a podium will be provided, Rudzinski said.
“Our desire is to keep everybody who is participating in Thursday’s event safe,” Wyatt said.