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First Responders Learn Lessons from Mass Shootings, Acts of Terror


At the recent South by Southwest music, tech and movie festival, all attendees had badges that needed to be scanned before they could enter a venue.

Tommy Mcilhon is a college student and enjoys attending large music festivals around the United States. The latest event he has attended is the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas. Besides thinking about music, he thinks about the mass shootings in crowds over the last few years.

“It does cross my mind every time I go to a show or large size or anything like that, that something like that could happen because it is a concern that is possible.” Mcilhon added, “It makes me more aware of what’s going on around me. I pay more attention to the people around me.”

Being more alert does not mean being more afraid, many SXSW attendees said.

“If I look around, are there cops around? Are there guardrails up? Do they have exit signs that are clearly posted? But does it ever deter me from going somewhere? No,” said Marilyn Sitorus, festival attendee from New York.

WATCH: First Responders Learn Lessons from Mass Shootings, Acts of Terror

First Responders Learn Lessons from Mass Shootings, Terror Acts
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Season for festivals

SXSW is one of many large festivals, fairs and outdoor concerts that will be taking place in the U.S. as the weather warms.

First responders, such as police and paramedics, are preparing to make such events more secure. The mass shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas last year and the 2016 Pulse night club shooting in Orlando are not the only events on the minds of Austin police officers.

“There have been some incidents around the globe and around the country where vehicles have been used as weapons in crowds, so we do have a lot of intersections that we’re using vehicles to block, and we also use dump trucks to block some of these intersections,” said Ely Reyes, assistant chief of police of the Austin Police Department.

In addition to police officers in uniform at the festival, there are also undercover officers that keep watch over the event. Festival attendees have special badges that are scanned before they can enter a venue.

There are road blocks throughout downtown Austin, Texas, during the South by Southwest festival so pedestrians can freely and safely move from venue to venue protected from traffic.
There are road blocks throughout downtown Austin, Texas, during the South by Southwest festival so pedestrians can freely and safely move from venue to venue protected from traffic.

Prepared for the unexpected

If something catastrophic were to happen, paramedics are also prepared with portable mini hospitals on wheels.

“So we deploy medics on Polaris Rangers and motorcycles because they’re able to access the patient” and then move them to a waiting ambulance, said Wesley Hopkins, division chief for Austin Travis County EMS.

The Polaris Rangers are vehicles that look like miniature two-seat Jeeps with a cargo bed in the back for first aid supplies and a stretcher. They can get patients from inside a crowded environment to an ambulance nearby quickly.

“In context of mass shootings, whether it be the Las Vegas incident or the Pulse night club shooting, we know that having medics at a forward position so that they’re able to treat patients immediately so that we can be proactive as opposed to reactive and access those patients very quickly,” Hopkins said.

Tools onsite also help reduce the number of people who need to go to a hospital.

First responders say treating injured people quickly makes a difference. The Polaris Ranger is a way for medics to treat patients on-site. It also allows them to quickly transport patients away from a crowded environment to an ambulance waiting nearby.
First responders say treating injured people quickly makes a difference. The Polaris Ranger is a way for medics to treat patients on-site. It also allows them to quickly transport patients away from a crowded environment to an ambulance waiting nearby.

“So we set up basically a mini emergency room. It’s complete with shelter, water, power, we do a Wi-Fi network that’s kind of a higher band so that we’re able to monitor patients with an EKG or cardiac monitor.” Hopkins added, “The patient collection point allows us to treat patients on site. A lot of those patients will never see the emergency room.”

First responders say after every mass shooter event or act of terrorism, they learn from it and try to improve on security. Attendees are also becoming more security smart.

“Now it’s raising a lot more awareness that people are taking (paying) attention to it which is very important, and I can only see things getting better from here,” Mcilhon said.

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