Operations managers who handle hundreds of thousands of people for Clemson and University of South Carolina football games said Horry County emergency management officials are on the right track planning for Bikefest and suggested a few tweaks.
Marie Counts, special events coordinator for USC, and Lynn Fisher, emergency preparedness coordinator, spoke at a South Carolina Emergency Management Association workshop Tuesday at Kingston Plantation about how operations work on game days at their respective universities. The two covered traffic patterns, central command posts, triage centers and more during their hour-long presentation.
Fisher said trying to contact leaders of motorcycle clubs may help.
“If there’s a way to get at their leadership and bring those people in on some sort of an informative session to let them see what you want them to see, and say, ‘This is a big impact for us, but we need your help. We want you here to understand this is a big impact for us,’” Fisher said. “I don’t know if you can get some leadership from those guys to come forward and work together, perhaps that would help.”
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Randy Webster, emergency management director for Horry County, has led a task force addressing Bikefest and preparing the area for this year’s event with a plan to prevent Bikefest 2014 from happening again. Three people died and seven were injured in eight shootings on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach last Bikefest and officials have been working to be more prepared with law enforcement, and have worked to send early message to visitors to “be safe, have fun and follow the law.”
More than 100 officers and private security will man a 23-mile traffic loop — from 29th Avenue North on Ocean Boulevard south and around to Kings Highway, north to Harrelson Boulevard – which turns into George Bishop Parkway – west to Waccamaw Boulevard, which runs next to U.S. 501, onto S.C. 31 heading north to Grissom Parkway south, then onto U.S. 17 Bypass and down 29th Avenue North — that will be in place overnight on Memorial Day weekend. The loop will be put in place in an effort to keep traffic moving and cut down on street parties.
Contacted after the workshop, Webster said trying to reach leadership in an event that simply happens without any planned organization is difficult.
“I don’t know if there’s an organized way to find out who those bike clubs might be,” Webster said. “I see a lot of challenges in trying to do it. I don’t know how well organized those clubs really are.”
Last week, the task force announced more details of a unified command post at the Myrtle Beach Police Department Annex station and Fisher said that is important to keep order and also complimented the traffic loop.
“Certainly there needs to be a unified command post somewhere that’s close but not too close to the epicenter of the event,” Fisher said. “You should have some time restrictions on certain roads that you’re able to blockade. You can get some public works guys and get your barricades out and say, ‘You can’t use this street after 10 p.m. If you do, you’re in violation.’”
Counts said traffic control plays a large role in getting crowds in and out of Columbia on game day.
“It’s absolutely critical,” Counts said. “If you don’t have control of your streets, you will not be able to get emergency services where they need to go.”
Fisher said making sure area hospitals are prepared for mass casualties, and having law enforcement as an “eye in the sky” also could help maintain order.
Webster said area hospitals have been involved in the task force talks, but wouldn’t get into detail about how police will enforce the law.
“There’s going to be a lot of traffic monitoring going on in so many different ways that I think, in my opinion, we’ve got it covered as best as we can,” Webster said. “We have a bunch of different ways that we’ll do it.”
Counts said keeping the peace when alcohol is involved can be a challenge.
“Part of it is the crowd mentality and just the environment that they’re in,” Counts said of Gamecocks games. “Most people are really out there to hang out with their friends and have barbecues going. Their attitude is a positive one.”
Fisher said it’s important for county, state and city personnel to listen to the public throughout the event.
“I think you’re going to have to figure out what the community is comfortable with allowing them to do and then build that plan around that,” Fisher said. “It can’t be a lawless week because it will, in the end, get shut down.”