Local and state police are working closely with federal authorities to provide a tight ring of security around the debate site. Some nearby streets have already been closed and on Friday there will be only one entrance open to the university campus. Protesters are being allowed access to a nearby park, but will not be allowed near the campus athletic building being used for the debate.
Washington University has hosted presidential debates twice before, but that was before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the heightened security environment that followed. Steve Givens, Chairman of Washington University's Presidential Debate Steering Committee, said he is confident that participants in this event will be safe. "There is a danger anywhere in the world now where a lot of people gather to do something, but I think as we have proven in the United States at the political conventions and the other debates, life goes on here in the United States. We feel safe and secure here with the security we have set up and we are going to be vigilant," he said.
Officials declined to say how many police officers and federal agents will be on hand for Friday's debate, but they have indicated it will be similar to the 1,500 person force that maintained security at the presidential debate in Miami last week.
This debate is styled after a so-called town meeting in which the questions will be posed by ordinary citizens who have yet to decide for whom they will vote. The Gallup polling organization selected the voters who will take part.
Washington University's Steve Givens said others, including about 300 students from the university, will also attend, but will not participate. "There is kind of two parts to this audience. There is the town hall forum, the undecided voters who are going to be there asking the questions. Those are selected independently by the Gallup organization and they are down on the floor with the candidates. Up above in the balcony section is where the rest of the audience sits. They do not participate. They must sit quietly. They are in the dark," he said.
The debate will be broadcast live on radio and television and there are more than two thousand media representatives from all over the United States and several foreign nations on hand to cover the event. This will be the second of three presidential debates scheduled for this year's election.