HOUSTON – Extra security greeted crowds on opening day at the Houston International Festival. For obvious reasons, Houston police declined to talk specifics, but admit that they are doing things differently.
IFest celebrates diversity by bringing art, food, music and dance from around the world downtown. It is a growing, 42-year-old crowd magnet.
“I love the culture,” Jennifer Roberts said. “We don’t really get to see that out there in Clear Lake where we live.”
Usually, festival goers do not see HPD’s explosive detection team, their K-9 units, officers on bicycles and firefighters roaming in pairs. The usual plan changed once bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon five days ago.
“Well, yeah (security) did cross my mind,” said Renee Wells, who attended iFest.
Security is the top priority for organizers. They have been working closely with the mayor’s office, HPD and Homeland Security.
“We know through the mayor’s office that we have an increased presence here on site, in addition to our private security,” said Kim Stoilis, CEO and president for the Houston International Festival. “So, we’ve doubled and we’ve tripled.”
“Ever since 9/11, I’ve been vigilant and I know how to spot differences in a crowd, things that don’t look right,” said Eddie Gallegos, another festival goer. “That’s in the back of my mind.”
Though not worried, Roberts said her husband, a military veteran, gave her a pep talk.
“My husband was saying you know what to do right if a bomb goes off,” Roberts said.
“The big thing is just to be aware and know that things could happen,” her husband Jerry Roberts said. “But, we’re not going to change our life because of it.”
Instead, police are changing and watching over festival goers more carefully. They’re doing more to keep the celebration safe.