MADISON (WKOW)-- For the first time in 21 years, the Rhythm & Booms fireworks display has a new home. The festival's new location in downtown Madison has led to a new security strategy for the Madison Police Department.
"Warner Park was pretty much one big blob of people," Madison Police Lt. Dave McCaw says. "Because we're long and narrow here, instead of one big clump, things are going to be better for us. Plus we have major roadways that we're going to be relying on."
When creating a safety plan for the new Rhythm & Booms, police had very few references. The festival is expected to bring more than 200,000 people into the downtown area. The only event that came close to bringing in this many people was the Act 10 protests in 2011.
"They did the protests and left. We didn't have major traffic problems, accidents, any of those issues with 100,000 or so people. We're hoping to duplicate that for this event," Lt. McCaw says.
Police plan to set up three emergency command tents where officers will be monitoring the weather and treating medical emergencies. Plus, they will install a multi-speaker PA system to warn people on land and water if threatening weather approaches. During previous fireworks displays in Warner Park the police department was only able to install one large speaker to relay information to the crowds. The new site on John Nolen drive is long and narrow and gives them the opportunity to communicate more effectively with spectators.
"We feel this event will be much safer," Lt. McCaw says.
The Madison Police Department's horse mounted patrol unit will also be on site along with 16 paramedics on bikes. For safety reasons, event organizers are now allowing water to be brought into the festival grounds.
"To clarify the carry-in policy, you are allowed to bring in factory sealed water bottles for your personal use into the event," event director Ryan Richards says.
Food and drinks will not be allowed in the festival grounds on Saturday. Festival organizers say it's because the event features a different funding structure than in years past.
"In order to fund this event, especially this year when the city cut all funding, which was nearly $100,000, we needed to raise that money," Madison Festivals President Rita Kelliher says.
"We are asking people to support the beverage sales because that's where our income comes from in order to pay the bands and to pay police and the fireworks company."
The festival grounds on John Nolen Drive will feature at least 20 food and beverage vendors. Several live bands will also be playing at the festival grounds starting at 2:00 p.m. Festival organizers say this area will feature the most lively entertainment and the best view of the fireworks, but spectators can also watch the show from several vantage points across the city.
All of Madison's parks will be open during the event. Carry-in food and beverages will be allowed at all city parks in the downtown area. Alcohol will be allowed in all parks except Brittingham, Bernies Beach and BB Clarke Beach.
"Each park has its own set of guidelines and restrictions, but in all parks there are no dogs, no grilling, no fireworks and no glass containers allowed inside the park," Madison Parks Spokesperson Laura Whitmore says.
In the event of severe weather city officials will direct spectators to nearby shelters and parking garages in downtown. They say the area along John Nolen Drive features more shelter opportunities than the previous location in Warner Park.
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