Austin Security Services, both public and private, have a huge spike every year in March due to SXSW. Why the added measures? High crowds and late night parties make for high security risks downtown during the festival. In addition to federal agents and local law enforcement, private security will also be present to address the concerns. Read on to learn more.
What is SXSW and why are Austin security services involved?
SXSW (stands for South By Southwest. Often referred to as ‘Southby’ by locals) is a 10 day interactive film and music festival in Austin, TX. It has grown to over 28,000 acts and brings more than 51,000 visitors to Austin. Which such a huge crowd inhabiting downtown every March, security risks are high and both public and private security plan in advance.
Austin Police Department, the Austin Fire Department, and Travis County EMS have met many times to plan a security strategy for the event to keep people safe during the event. Businesses all over downtown have added security services to protect their business and customers during the crowded times.
Celebrities often join the event with means more crowds and excitement. Actors such as Seth Rogan, Christian Slater, Burt Reynolds, and more are attending this year. Musicians such as Willie Nelson, Kevin Jonas, and The Deftones are going to be present. Not to mention the President and First Lady Obama!
The austin security services budget for 2016 is the largest it’s been in years due to the festival's continuing growth in size. It’s gone from tens of thousands of dollars to 1.5 million in the last 15 years.
An unfortunate past at SXSW
In 2014, there was a deadly police chase that ended with a crash and killed 4 people. The tragedy has led security to take additional measure to keep people safe.
A man was charged with capital murder and 24 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after driving his car through a crowd of people. He drove drunk through barricades and plowed into a public crowd killing 4 people and injuring more than 20 others. Officers on DUI patrol that night originally tried to stop him because the car he was driving did not have its headlights on. The man later told officers he saw the police lights in his mirror and got scared because he had warrants out for his arrest and did not want to go to jail.
This terrible tragedy has caused everyone to reevaluate current security plans and identify gaps that need to be addressed. People's safety and security are the most important thought on people’s minds.
For the first time in SXSW history, Austin Police Department is running a No Refusal initiative. Officers who stop cars and suspect them of being intoxicated will get a search warrant to obtain a blood sample. Hopefully this helps deter folks who are thinking of driving while intoxicated during the event.
The President in town and what it means for security
Both President Obama and the First Lady will be in Austin during SXSW. President Obama will be in Austin for a rally and a fundraiser on Friday, March 11th, in addition to being apart of a Keynote Conversation. Safety measures in place include the Mayor deciding that non-essential employees will leave work at noon on that day and all other workers are encouraged to work from home. This plan reduces traffic downtown during the busy time. First lady Michelle will be opening the Keynote on wednesday, March 16th.
Secret Service was in charge of the security services for the president and first lady, and not releasing information right away on manpower or tactics in an effort to keep everyone safe. Local news station KEYE reporting some details though. Some information was gathered as the secret service asked some residents downtown to help by not going out onto the balcony between 3pm and 6pm. This is due to the balconies having a view of the venue where the President will be speaking.
Streets will be also closed to help keep unauthorized people from getting access to the president.
Another protective measure secret services took was to ask certain local business to close down early. This helps minimize traffic and unauthorized access fromt the President during the busy event.
6th Street Security during SXSW
One of the biggest locations during SXSW is the famous 6th street. 6 blocks of bars and restaurants with bands playing means extreme crowds. The Austin police department closes the street to cars to help with safety for the pedestrians. Each entrance around the perimeter has barricades and an officer to prevent vehicles from entering the festival zone.
During the popular nights, 6th street can become crazy busy! With the 6 blocks closed off to traffic and people filling the streets it can still become totally standstill at times. Some visitors report it taking over an hour to walk the 6 blocks.
In fact, most action happens on the streets instead of inside the businesses. People want to have a good time, drink, enjoy the music, and often want to be seen or get a chance to see a celebrity. It’s a risky mix that can turn volatile under the wrong circumstances.
While Police keep the crowd calm on the streets, private security services keep the bars and businesses safe too. Bouncers have an important and often dangerous job keeping people safe in a bar during an event. They provide access control and screen those that enter. They check ID’s to assure that everyone is legally allowed to enter the establishment. They also check for weapons. They make sure that everyone behaves and no one becomes violent with staff or other guests. They keep the establishment from getting too crowded and breaking occupancy laws.
Large concerts need extra security
Some of the venues at SXSW have a large capacity and the added risk of incidents arising due to that. The largest stage is SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake - which features free to the public concerts for 3 of the days during the festival. More than 50,000 attendees will join the free shows.
Everyone has the right to a good time at the show and security experts are there to help make that happen.
Concert security responsibilities includes breaking up fights, offering assistance with venue information, crowd control, and immediate response to crowd incidents. The large crowds could be a target to security risks, so monitoring the crowd for suspicious behavior is crucial as well.
In addition to the private security, the Austin Police department has assigned 175 officers to be present during the event to assist with traffic, crowds, and any situations that arise.
When there is an issue with a venue, APD is quick to step in and resolve the situation. Citations are issued as warnings, and at the last resort venues can be shut down for safety issues. Several venues have been cited or shut down during the festival. Mostly due to occupancy issues or unpermitted outdoor music. Local news station KXAN has a full list.
High crowds downtown with lots of venues, alcohol, street closures, and celebrities all mean that SXSW is a fun but risky event. Austin security services are implemented by private, local, and federal organizations to keep people safe while they have a good time. Enjoy the event and remember to stay safe!