Skip Navigation

News Release

Monday, January 12, 2009

Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

HHS Advises Inauguration Attendees to Prepare to Avoid Cold-Weather Related Health Problems

As part of the extensive preparation for the presidential inauguration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reminds attendees to plan ahead to prevent cold-weather related health problems.

“Federal, state and local governments along with the American Red Cross and the region’s hospitals are working to plan and coordinate the appropriate medical response to meet the overall health and medical needs of the many visitors and residents of the greater Washington, D.C., community,” said Dr. Craig Vanderwagen, assistant secretary for preparedness and response.  “However, there are steps attendees can take to prevent cold-related health problems.”

The average temperature in Washington in January is 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Exposure to cold temperatures can cause serious or life-threatening health problems. Infants and the elderly are particularly at risk, but anyone can be affected. Visitors from warm climates may be more sensitive to the cold and should factor in any sensitivity in deciding how to dress for outdoor inaugural events.

Attendees of all ages are likely to need hats, water-resistant coats, scarves or knit masks to cover the face and mouth, and gloves or mittens. Mittens are warmer than gloves.

HHS’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold in more body heat than cotton. Perspiration can increase heat loss, and wet clothing can chill the body rapidly.

To prevent cold-related health problems, dress in layers of loose-fitting clothes, including extra socks, which can be removed as they become damp.

Eating well-balanced meals will help attendees stay warmer, although alcoholic or caffeinated beverages can cause the body to lose heat more rapidly. Warm, sweet beverages or broth can help maintain body temperature.

Because wet weather is also possible, water-resistant or waterproof outerwear is advisable to reduce the risk of hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature). Hypothermia can occur in chilly weather, and if a person becomes chilled by rain.

Inaugural events may require walking long distances and standing for long periods of time, so attendees are advised to wear warm, comfortable shoes. As people walk around the city it is important to remain hydrated by drinking water and other non-caffeinated beverages.   Cold weather can put an extra strain on the heart, so attendees with heart disease or high blood pressure should follow their doctors’ advice about exerting themselves in the cold.

As a rule, to avoid illness people should wash their hands frequently with soap and water or use antibacterial products. People who are on medications should bring enough medication for the duration of the visit, and people with medical conditions should bring their medical records with them. Visitors are likely to be away from their hotels and accommodations for many hours and should carry with them any necessary medications.

Medical services available for the inaugural events will include: 

  • Approximately 50 medical aid stations to assist individuals and support medical response. These stations will be staffed with trained medical personnel from the D.C. Department of Health, the National Park Service, the HHS National Disaster Medical System, the Department of Defense the U.S. Public Health Service and volunteer medical professionals in the D.C. Medical Reserve Corps.
  • Eight first aid stations on the National Mall for the opening ceremony Jan. 18.
  • Sixteen first aid stations on the National Mall between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, and additional stations in the Capitol area.
  • Additional ambulances to move patients in response to any medical emergencies.

The Smithsonian Institution museum buildings on the National Mall will be open for people to use as warming stations.  Additional federal buildings will be open along the parade route so that attendees can warm up.

For more information on cold weather and avoiding hypothermia and frostbite, visit:

For more information on the 56th presidential inaugural, visit


Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at

Last revised: January 12, 2009