State and County Fairs Increase Security Measures in Wake of Mass Shootings
Fair organizers in New York, Los Angeles and Wisconsin are responding to safety concerns with assurances that their events are well-protected.
- By Haley Samsel
- Aug 09, 2019
Following a series of mass shootings that have made many Americans fearful of being gunned down in public spaces, law enforcement officers and private companies are reassessing the security measures in place at state and county fairs across the country.
The Wisconsin State Fair kicked off last Thursday, just a few days before mass killings in an El Paso, Texas Walmart and a Dayton, Ohio bar took over 30 lives and injured dozens of others. A gunman previously targeted a food festival in California on July 28, killing three attendees before being shot and killed by police.
The fair’s CEO, Kathleen O’Leary, told WISN-TV that the events were “unthinkable.”
“Large event organizers should always be thinking about that,” O’Leary said. “Safety and security is always at the forefront of everything we do.”
O’Leary’s event, held in West Allis, has its own police force of more than 100 officers to respond to critical incidents and 400 others who staff the metal detectors at the fair’s entrances. There are also more than 200 security cameras being monitored at a command post, according to WISN-TV.
"From a reactive standpoint, we're not adding anything at this time,” O’Leary said. "Every measure that we could possibly take to ensure the safety for our fairgoers has been taken."
Organizers of the Los Angeles County Fair, which lasts from Aug. 30 to Sept. 22, say they are stepping up their security measures this year as they prepare to welcome over 1 million attendees. The nonprofit that operates the fair, Fairplex, spent $200,000 to build a command center in the Pomona fairgrounds where police, fire officials and other staff can coordinate emergency responses, The Los Angeles Times reported.
“In light of the environment, we’ve made significant investment to make sure our guests and employees are safe,” Miguel Santana, Fairplex’s chief executive, told the Times. “We always take security seriously but we’ve made a deliberate effort to strengthen our security system.”
Santana added that extra video cameras have been added to monitor the fair’s perimeter along with more metal detectors and a badge-scanning system for employees and contractors entering the grounds. Security forces for the fair also recently conducted a training exercise to practice responding to a mass shooting similar to the one that took place in 2017 at a Las Vegas country music festival, claiming 58 lives and wounding 422 others.
With the state fair in New York just two weeks away, fair organizers say they will have more than 250 active security staff on hand. Attendance averages just under 100,000 people per day, according to Syracuse news station CNYCentral.
The fair’s director, Troy Waffner, said his team has been preparing all year long to prepare for the event, during which the staff monitors social media activity and manages an emergency operations center.
“It’s something we think long and hard and plan for and test,” Waffner told CNYCentral. “You put together an emergency preparedness plan and it really just sits on a shelf and it shouldn’t. We test ours multiple times a year to really drive the message home to how you react if something does happen.”
He added: “I always say, during the 13 days of the fair, the New York State fairgrounds is the best protected and best-mobilized 375 acres there is in the country, probably, with the amount of law enforcement we have here.”