This weekend, about 60,000 people are expected to come to Greenwood to eat food from local restaurants, watch the parade and lay out their blankets and lawn chairs for fireworks, and that means every one of the city’s 58 police officers are working.
In addition, the city gets help from officers from two other departments, so that close to 70 officers can be out directing traffic, walking through Craig Park to look for any suspicious activity or emergencies and patrolling the rest of the city.
Once a week for the past several months, police and park officials and other members of the Freedom Festival committee have been meeting to solidify final plans and making sure everyone knows where to be throughout the weekend, Greenwood Assistant Police Chief Matt Fillenwarth said.
The same is true for each of the summer events in both Greenwood and Franklin. Immediately after an event like Smoke on the Square in Franklin and Greenwood’s Freedom Festival ends, officials begin meeting to discuss what worked well and what needs changed for the next year. They meet monthly and then, closer to the event, weekly to make sure they are prepared.
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Their plans include making sure emergency workers are nearby in case of someone suffering from heat exhaustion, knowing what to do if a child wanders away from their parents and how to make sure thousands of people can get to safety if severe weather moves in.
This evening, officials are anticipating the largest crowd ever at Greenwood’s annual Independence Day celebration with about 60,000 people expected to visit and more than 160 vendors set up around Craig Park, which requires planning as far out as possible, Greenwood parks director Rob Taggart said.
“You start planning the next event as soon as the last one ends,” Taggart said. “We are bigger than we ever have been — without question, this is growing.”
At Greenwood’s Freedom Festival, it’s an unwritten rule: no police officer is off the day of the event, Mayor Mark Myers said. And the fire department has an added presence as well with two crews at the festival, both in the crowd with emergency medics and near the area where the fireworks are shot off, Myers said.
Myers is given a public safety planning guide that includes everything from the police department’s traffic routes all the way to what the plan of action is and where everyone will be in the event of a serious emergency such as sever weather, he said.
The planning guide is a communication tool to keep the mayor informed. The guide lists details of the city’s back-up plan, including the date the festival will be rescheduled if the event is canceled due to weather and how many police and firefighters will be working, Myers said.
The most common incidents at the event are people suffering from heat exhaustion and a child who has trailed off from mom and dad and needs help finding them, Fillenwarth said. Police aren’t out and about in the crowd to write citations for someone smoking in the park; they’re there to be vigilant and accessible in the event of an emergency, Fillenwarth said.
“Our primary goal, with 50,000 to 60,000 people expected, is safety,” Fillenwarth said. “In the last five years, this has gotten bigger.”
Today is also the second day of Franklin’s annual Smoke on the Square barbecue celebration, where pit masters will camp out in downtown Franklin while their award-winning barbecue slow-cooks overnight.
And a safety plan in the event of storms or rain is one of the top priorities, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said.
In the event of bad storms, or even heavy rain, Franklin’s city hall is the designated location for Smoke on the Square participants to seek shelter, McGuinness said.
Weather is a top concern of local officials because of the size of the crowd and the challenge safety officials face getting people to shelter. The tragedy at the state fair several years ago is one of the main reasons why Greenwood has a detailed guide for what to do in severe weather, Myers said.
Franklin creates back-up plans in the event of rain two days before or on the day of the annual Firecracker Festival, parks director Chip Orner said.
Fireworks are shot off from a field near Compass Park, so if it rains, that means the city has to find another spot to do the show, Orner said.
No rain for a long period of time is another obstacle event organizers have to deal with. Several years ago, the temperatures were very high, and it hadn’t rained in more than a week, so the spot where Franklin shot off its fireworks had to be relocated and the area had to be watered down by the fire department because the dry, wooded area was a recipe for a potential fire, McGuinness said.
The only way to truly measure an event’s success is through feedback from visitors and residents, city officials said. That feedback is a large part of planning for the next year’s event, officials said.
“I love getting phone calls from (other cities) asking about our events,” McGuinness said. “We have an awesome team of city employees and community volunteers that make it happen.
“When they get here and leave safely, and then it’s cleaned up, then I know we pulled off another great event; it’s very satisfying.”
A look ahead at this summer’s biggest festivals and events in Greenwood and Franklin.
Today;Smoke on the Square;Franklin;11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Today;Freedom Fest;Greenwood;All day until fireworks at 10 p.m.
July 3;Firecracker Festival;Franklin;6 p.m. until fireworks at 10 p.m.
Aug. 20; WAMMfest;Greenwood;All day
Aug. 27;Beer and Bluegrass Festival;Franklin;5 to 10 p.m.
Sep. 24;Rock The Clock;Greenwood;afternoon and evening (time TBD)