DALLAS -- Police and fire crews are gearing up to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of jubilant Mavericks fans expected to converge in downtown Dallas on Thursday for the team’s victory parade are safe from a myriad of potential threats—within and outside the crowd.
Authorities insist they’re better prepared than they were in 1993, when a melee followed a Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl parade. They say they’re armed with new tactics and a heightened awareness designed to counter terrorism in a post-Sept. 11 world.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who was a sergeant on the Special Weapons and Tactics team during the 200,000-strong crowd parade nearly two decades ago that was marred by violence, injuries and arrests, is overseeing planning for the Mavericks’ NBA championship celebration.
“If it goes bad, it’s my fault,” the chief has said.
But authorities say they hope blame won’t be necessary. “That was a learning point for us as to how bad things can go in a hurry if you don’t have adequate personnel,” said Lt. Todd Thomasson, who recalled the 1993 parade as “a mess.” Thomasson now heads a Dallas police unit that didn’t exist back then, the Fusion Center, which merges information from a variety of sources to improve the department’s ability to fight crime and terrorism.
Created in 2007, the center will help play a key security role on Thursday, including monitoring intelligence activity and watching cameras stationed along the parade route.
They’ll also be in close contact with several dozen plainclothes officers in with the crowd to keep an eye on what’s going on. “So if we have a fight that’s getting started, they don’t intervene, they call us and we can rapidly deploy resources before it gets out of hand,” Thomasson said.
Police are adding at least 300 additional officers to the parade route and have forces strategically placed outside the crowds that can quickly be summoned, including SWAT teams and other units. Given an anticipated crowd of 250,000 in sweltering heat, officials say they must be prepared for anything.
“In this day and age, with any large gathering of people, we have to be aware of the possibility of a terrorism strike,” Thomasson said. “We have no indication of anything, but just like the Super Bowl, with any large gathering of people we have to be much more vigilant post 9-11.”
Dallas Fire-Rescue’s explosive-disposal team and hazardous materials unit will be on site, spokesman Jason Evans said. Bomb-sniffing dogs will be amid the crowds and officials will be testing air quality for any hint of chemical or biological weapons. Eight bike medics will ride through the parade route helping those suffering from what may be triple-digit temperatures or other medical emergencies, Evans said. Medical tents will be set up near the Dallas Convention Center, where the 10 a.m. parade will begin, another will be at Dealy Plaza and a third at Victory Plaza, where the parade will end at the American Airlines Center.
The fire department will also have two off-road “rescue” vehicles with flat beds on the back that can more easily navigate through a large crowd than a giant fire truck or ambulance. “We don’t want to raise alarm by talking about hazmat teams and terrorist attacks, but we do want people to be educated,” Evans said.
Fire Chief Eddie Burns said that people should wear cool clothes, stay hydrated and keep their eyes out for anything suspicious.
“We encourage everyone to be aware of their surroundings,” Burns said.
Although overnight camping to get a good viewing spot will be forbidden, the Dallas County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency management is encouraging fans to arrive early since road barricades will start going up at 8 a.m. and traffic will be limited or closed going into downtown.
Those riding the light rail will see DART police at many stations and fare enforcement officers on trains in full force on Thursday, DART spokesman Mark Ball said.
Brown encouraged people to follow his department on Twitter for information about traffic, crowds, road closures and places to avoid during the parade.
“Our goal is to make sure that everyone is safe,” Dallas Mayor Dwayne Carraway said.
Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle contributed to this report.