Citing a successful Memorial Day weekend, the Bikefest Task Force – coordinated by Horry County staff – will keep working and plan for next year’s event.
The Grand Strand Coastal Alliance, which created the task force after a deadly Memorial Day weekend last year, voted Wednesday to allow the group to continue working toward making the weekend safe. The Coastal Alliance is a group that represents cities and Horry County along the Grand Strand.
“When we took on the role as chair of the task force it was kind of murky, at first, trying to figure out where we were going,” said Randy Webster, director of Horry County Emergency Management, who is overseeing the task force. “The key that I did was stick to the goals ... which was to create a safe environment for the community and for the Bikefest participants.”
The task force was formed after three people died and seven were injured in eight shootings on Ocean Boulevard during Memorial Day weekend in 2014. Tens of thousands of people travel to the Grand Strand to take advantage of a holiday weekend at the beach or participate in events such as Atlantic Beach Bikefest.
“The key to moving forward is to do it methodically and make sure we have all the right pieces,” Webster said. “I don’t expect a lot of issues to come out of the after-action review that are glaring problems. A lot [of issues were] just because it was our first time at bat.”
Grand Strand officials enacted a 23-mile traffic loop, arranged for U.S. Department of Justice cultural awareness training, increased the number of officers from outside jurisdictions to help and arranged for a central check-in location for those officers to get briefed and receive their assignments and accommodations for the weekend.
Webster said emergency management is compiling its after-action report in the next few weeks and expects to get a similar report from the state agencies that helped police during Memorial Day weekend within the next month.
Task force members – which includes law enforcement officials and managers from the county and all local jurisdictions, as well as representatives from S.C. Highway Patrol and the State Law Enforcement Division – began meeting last October to plan for this year’s event.
“It’s clear the efforts that y’all put in, and all the local governments working together, worked well,” said Surfside Beach Mayor Doug Samples. “We were busy [in Surfside Beach], but it was very pleasant. I think [visitors] were surprised to see what was a laid-back community that was friendly and welcoming.”
Webster said he thinks the monthly task force meetings, with smaller working groups ironing out details, for next year’s festival will again begin in October.
“We started from zero last year,” Webster said. “This way we can take time to sort through the after-action reports and any changes we might make.”
Webster said the only change he sees for next year is to work to continue to improve communication between the jurisdictions.
“Everything ran smoothly,” he said. “It’s a large event with a lot of agencies with representations from different levels of government. ... We’re going to continue to improve communication during the event, which is typical of any event we do. Communication is one of the pieces that we can continue to improve on.”
Newly appointed Atlantic Beach Town Manager Benjamin Quattlebaum said the motorcycle rally and festival went extremely well in town.
“We had an excellent three-day weekend with no major incidents and all of the attendees who participated at our site were happy with the way things were run,” he said.
Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said he thinks the county and other towns along the Grand Strand need to work on what can be done to help Atlantic Beach achieve a year-round economy instead of relying on the revenue generated from Bikefest.
Lazarus’s comments were similar to comments from Gov. Nikki Haley who last week said the state would help the town develop if they forgo Bikefest.
But Quattlebaum said Atlantic Beach is looking at ways to enhance the festival next year to coincide with the town’s 50th anniversary of incorporation.
“We are looking to expand Bikefest to have celebrations leading up to Memorial Day,” he said. “As well as working on developing a year-round economy.”
Quattlebaum said 50th anniversary events could include speakers and symposiums about the history of Atlantic Beach and Bikefest, as well as developing a commemorative item that could be sold year-round.
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or on Twitter @TSN_mprabhu.