What Really Happens During a ‘White House Down’ Moment?
Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum in a locked-down White House (Photo: Columbia Pictures)
This weekend brings us the release of "White House Down," a flag-waving extravaganza that aims to make a bona fide action star out of "Magic Mike" hunk Channing Tatum and adds "Django Unchained" gunslinger Jamie Foxx to the ever-growing list of on-screen U.S. presidents.
The film could best be described as "Die Hard at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" (which could've also been the best description of this spring's "Olympus Has Fallen," but whatever). Capitol policeman John Cale (Tatum), who was just denied his dream position as a Secret Service agent, ends up protecting the President in a more unofficial way when the White House is overrun by a group of paramilitary invaders.
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This raises and interesting question: What happens when the real White House goes on lockdown, and what's it like on the inside? We talked to a couple people who have been there and seen the world's most famous house in panic mode up close.
Dave Anderson, a White House communications staffer during the Clinton Administration from 1992-'95, recalls a lockdown situation that was both harrowing and humorous.
"The Secret Service patrols the grounds every so often, and there was an incident in a parking lot on West Executive Drive, which is for senior White House staff and photographers," said Anderson, who now works as a photographer himself. "There was a photographer who had a particularly messy car. The bomb squad dogs are trained to sit down if they sense anything suspicious, and they sat down right next to this car."
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Secret Service agents stand guard outside the White House just days after Sept. 11, 2001 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
"Everyone had to shuttle away from the side of the building the car was on," said Anderson. "I snuck over to the window and looked out at the parking lot, and there were guys wandering around in what looked like 1960s moon suits — kind of a cross between a spacesuit and the robot from 'Lost in Space.' They checked the car — and, of course, nothing was wrong with it — and we got the all-clear and everyone came back."