City of Austin police, fire, EMS collaborate for SXSW safety calls

A collaborative team with City of Austin personnel and festival staff is geared up for anything. They are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

"Police, fire, EMS, transportation. We are all gathered to keep an eye on what's happening in the downtown area," said Sara Henry, communications manager with Austin Center for Events.

They set up the South by Southwest Command Center on March 11. The city does this each year. 

"We've been doing this for many years, there are a lot of seasoned professionals in the room. All of these folks are there to help ensure public safety throughout the festival," said Henry.

Downtown, ATCEMS officials have a set-up on 5th and Brazos Street, right in the thick of crowds. They are prepared to respond to any calls, including heat-related incidents and overdoses. All public safety personnel are acting as one unit to ensure festival-goers stay safe.

"We have medics, we have personnel from the Office of the Chief Medical Officer that can evaluate these people, treat them, hopefully not have to take them to the hospital," said Kevin Parker, commander for special events with ATCEMS.

"It's a large event, and most large events that happen in Austin do this. The need is public safety. Not because it's inherently dangerous but because when we get a lot of people together it's important to make sure everyone is communicating," said Frank Schaefer, vice-president of facilities at South by Southwest.

City officials still have thoughts of the unfortunate 2014 incident, when then 21-year-old Rashad Owens drove through a barricade and mowed down a crowd on Red River Street. This put the command center in full action. 

"That was long enough ago, I don't really want to go into what we had in place when we were dealing with that , but there were a lot of ins and outs to that," said Schaefer.

The city said any large event or festival will justify the need for a command center. They are hoping they do not get any calls this year, but they still are preparing if it were to happen.

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