COLUMBIA, SC — When you host a party for more than 40,000, you have to be prepared for everything from tornados to medical emergencies to fights.
We realize things can happen, and we want to be prepared for them, said Merritt McHaffie, executive director of the Five Points Association and the festival chairwoman.
This year, festival organizers have taken steps to improve public safety. Among the improvements are an intentional effort to spread the crowd throughout the festival grounds in the sprawling entertainment and retail village near USC. Also new is a plan to enhance communication between partygoers, police and festival officials.
In years past, all of the food vendors were lined up along the 700 block of Harden Street. In the late afternoon, food lines would be so long that it would be almost impossible for people to walk through that area. That situation was not safe, McHaffie said.
This year, food courts will be spread around Five Points, and they will include tents where people can sit to eat or drink, she said.
A festival program also is a new addition this year. Every patron who enters will be given a brochure that can folded into a back pocket. The program has a map, a list of rules, services and even outlines a safety plan. The safety plan includes short instructions on where to turn for minor, moderate and major emergencies.
Its very basic information, McHaffie said. Its not very technical, but its stuff every person needs to know.
In addition, every festival official and police officer will have a handbook outlining various policies and procedures so everyone should be able to answer questions ranging from where to find a first aid station to who can enter a barricade. Police and festival organizers worked together on the handbook.
As always, police presence will be robust. More than 100 officers will be on hand to keep the crowd under control. The association will spend about $35,000 on security from the Columbia Police Department, McHaffie said.
Police chief Randy Scott said his department has been coordinating with festival organizers to make sure the entire weekend is free of violence.
Gunshots have rocked Five Points twice in the past month no one was hurt but Scott said he will have extra officers in the district and surrounding neighborhoods throughout the weekend.
Five Points bars are expected to be crowded Friday as festivalgoers roll into town, and they will remain crowded Saturday once the festival ends at 6 p.m., Scott said.
Typically, arrests at the St. Pats festival are kept to a minimum. Last year, 36 people were arrested, mostly on drinking-related charges.
Its not about the arrests, Scott said. Well have the necessary police presence in place. The officers will be diligent to make sure people are safe and have a good time.
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.