F1 at COTA: How Austin first responders are preparing

Coming off of ACL, and in the midst of football season, Austin-area first responders are now preparing for F1 at Circuit of the Americas.

"I have always enjoyed it," said Austin-Travis County EMS Division Chief Kevin Parker. 

Parker has worked every U.S. Grand Prix at COTA. He oversees the agency’s special events and homeland security emergency management units. He says the agency started planning for this year's race immediately after last year's concluded. 

"We really prepare and make sure that some of our plans are dusted off, particularly around weather," he said.

This year, he says the forecast is hot, windy and dusty. 

"So, we expect to see more heat-related calls. We expect to see more respiratory complaints that are triggered by some environmental dust and allergens that you would see with any prolonged period spent outdoors," he explained. 

Despite the agency’s recent staffing shortage, Parker told FOX 7 Austin he feels they are currently in good shape. He says he is not worried about staffing at COTA or elsewhere. 

"We do not anticipate any significant impact to the rest of the city at all." 

Austin Police Association Vice President Joe Swann says that is not the case for the police department.

"Right now, we don't have enough officers to answer 9-1-1 calls in a timely manner. You add in having to fill these events, and you're having to pull from officers who are responding to those 9-1-1 calls, who is going to do it?" Swann inquired. 

As of Tuesday, Swann said the department had 1,408 officers. They are authorized 1,812 and 111 are on leave, meaning they have 293 true vacancies. 

In 2016, the department’s response times for top priority calls hovered around six minutes. Now, they average more than nine minutes. 

"It's a major issue. You have someone who's been hurt in a car accident, shot, stabbed, robbed, who knows what. They need a police officer there as quickly as possible to save lives, to handle the situation," said Swann. 

The Austin Police Department was unable to accommodate an interview. However, they shared this statement with FOX 7 Austin. 

"APD works diligently to ensure that we have adequate staffing numbers to safely cover patrol and the events around town.

Here are a few safety tips:

  • Pay attention to your surroundings, especially in crowds.
  • Keep your phone and ID/credit cards/cash in separate places on your person.
  • Do not keep your phone in your back pocket - phones sticking out of your back pockets or backpacks are not secure.
  • Keep property in a secure location (front pocket, fanny pack) or leave it at home.
  • Record serial number information for your device and store it separately.
  • Notify on-site security/APD immediately for assistance.
  • Utilize APD’s online reporting site or Austin 3-1-1 (non-emergency) to report theft.
  • If you see something, say something."