ChristmasVille organizers put safety first as 4-day festival opens in Rock Hill

Organizers try to think of every security detail

adouglas@heraldonline.comNovember 29, 2012 

— Rock Hill’s “what if” guy has been strategizing since February to make sure Friday’s Christmas parade is safe for everyone riding floats and standing along the parade route.

Tom Glenn, the city’s hometown security coordinator, works with a special events team to manage large-scale activities such as this week’s four-day ChristmasVille festival.

“We use the grandmother idea,” he said.

The “grandmother idea,” he said, is that city event planners and ChristmasVille’s board of governors take into account how they would want their grandmother treated at an event like Rock Hill’s Christmas celebration.

Smoothing out details such as providing enough handicapped-accessible parking, scheduling cleaning crews and closing roads for the safety of nearly 70,000 ChristmasVille visitors in the downtown area are all responsibilities left to Glenn and other event organizers every year.

Planning for next year’s ChristmasVille will start almost as soon as this year’s festival ends. “After action” meetings with festival volunteers and organizers after every ChristmasVille help shape the next year’s festival.

“We learn,” Glenn said. “We’re not afraid to say, ‘OK, we can improve this.’”

Since the festival’s inception seven years ago, Glenn said, ideas that crop up in the “after action” meetings sometimes find their way on the next ChristmasVille calendar.

The skating rink in front of City Hall during the festival was one of those ideas. The idea for Santa to fly in by helicopter this year also was an “after action” meeting idea.

With a keen eye for risk management and 28 years of law enforcement experience, Glenn said he’s usually the one to raise his hand and say “whoa” while ideas are being vetted.

Before anyone could give the go-ahead on Santa’s aerial entrance, Glenn said, the city had to check with its engineers to make sure the landing spot – the Black Street parking garage – could bear the weight of a helicopter landing.

City spokeswoman Katie Quinn is part of the special events team with Glenn, hammering out the logistics of ChristmasVille.

To ensure public safety, the special events team plays the “what if” game to think through plans.

“The rule of special events is to be a Debbie-downer,” she said.

The festival stretches out over four city blocks, with 70 different activities taking place nearly all day from Thursday to Sunday.

Glenn estimates that about half of the people at this weekend’s ChristmasVille will be visitors.

ChristmasVille organizers want a visitor’s introduction to Rock Hill to be a positive one. Difficulty finding parking or not feeling safe in a large crowd, Glenn said, is not a good first impression.

Because many roads around downtown Rock Hill will be closed for the event, he said, it’s important that detour signs are posted to help unfamiliar drivers find their way around.

Past ChristmasVille festivals have not been marked by any significant crime or safety problems, Glenn said. The biggest threat at any major event, he said, is probably theft from cars left unlocked in parking lots.

Police officers who would normally be off duty are hired to work at the festival, leaving ample numbers of regularly scheduled officers to patrol and respond to other calls in the city, he said.

The Rock Hill Police Department also will use its mobile command post recreational vehicle to extend a pole camera, which will give officers aerial surveillance of the entire festival. Officers and EMS workers will use a special radio frequency during ChristmasVille that will cut down in response time in case of an emergency in downtown.

“The bottom line is come and have fun,” Glenn said. “But be safe about it.”

Anna Douglas 803-329-4068

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