X Games: disaster … on a schedule
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
ASPEN, Colo. ” Officials from the city of Aspen, Pitkin County, area law enforcement and ESPN have agreed Tuesday to do things differently for next year’s Winter X Games at Buttermilk.
Attendance at X Games is going through the roof, with more than 75,000 at this year’s event. And while officials congratulated the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and law enforcement for handling the added challenges in 2007, all agreed they could do better.
At a joint meeting Tuesday of the Aspen City Council and the Pitkin County Commissioners, officials from multiple jurisdictions agreed to use the “incident command system” and cooperate in advance of next year’s event, treating X Games like an anticipated hurricane or a predictable flood.
“The advantage of the X Games is we know exactly when it’s going to happen,” said Ellen Anderson, the county emergency management coordinator.
Anderson and Basalt police chief Keith Ikeda presented an “After Action Report” of the January event to officials.
The Winter X Games crosses multiple jurisdictions, and traditionally the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office controls security at the Buttermilk venue, Aspen Police monitor the concerts in Wagner Park and officials from surrounding counties and the state monitor the stream of traffic going up and down the Roaring Fork Valley.
But officials agreed to handle next year’s X Games as a singular event, Anderson said, and will convene a Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) team to coordinate services and create contingency plans.
“It’s way ahead of the curve,” Anderson said.
And ESPN will be required to submit an event application earlier – by October.
“ESPN has not said ‘no’ to anything,” said Jack Wienert, the ESPN executive in charge of the event. And he promised to bow to requests from area agencies whenever possible.
“We’re not the big bad TV company coming to town,” Wienert said, adding the network doesn’t take over the city for four days and leave.
Wienert said ESPN simply wants to “borrow your swing set” – or make use of the Buttermilk area – then return it as is.
“We’ll work real hard to do what we can,” Wienert said.
Area officials also expressed concern about high attendance at X Games.
Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson said it is not just about attendees at the event, but the effect throughout the area – everything from bus ridership to the number of “flushes” in town.
Joe DiSalvo, Pitkin County undersheriff, said it’s not about numbers but, “How safe is the event?”
“From a public safety standpoint. … I think the event is safer than it was five years ago,” DiSalvo said. Even with the record turnout, his agency had less than 30 arrests, mostly for underage drinking.
Basalt’s Ikeda said most public agencies have reached their capacity during the event.
“The local services have maxed out,” he said.
“I see us as having to try to really cooperatively get a handle on what this beast is,” said County Commissioner Jack Hatfield.
County Commissioner Rachel Richards agreed, saying the event felt “a little understaffed for the crowds that were there.”
Richards suggested better security in the concert crowds (and roving security agents looking for underage drinkers). And she recommended more access points to the venues, saying she was caught in a rush at the gates at one concert event.
“Is there a limit to this event?” asked Michael Owsley. “We’re at this point of straining the community.”
David Perry, a Skico senior vice president, agreed.
“Everyone felt the strain from this last X Games,” Perry said, but added the event is a question of management, and anticipating larger crowds.
“We’re pretty close to the max number of people,” Perry said.
Alcohol offenses, particularly underage drinking, were a major problem at the 2007 Winter X Games, and area officials chimed in with strategies to combat that.
Ryerson said he is talking with police chiefs in other areas and hopes to build on the success of New Year’s Eve management in the city.
“Alcohol was the biggest problem at the intercept lot,” said an officer with the Colorado State Patrol. “It was pretty much one big tailgate party.”
“Something needs to be done,” Ikeda said. “I think we could do a much better job in the screening process at all of the venues by training the security staff.”
While Aspen and the X Games are a perfect fit, according to Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud, “We can always do things better.”
Klanderud supports pre-planning, as well as talking with kids in schools to prevent underage drinking. Klanderud said that while the events were alcohol-free, many snuck in booze with CamelBak carriers or put vodka in water bottles. She advocates an open container law at the intercept lot and no containers allowed to enter any venue.
“The security needs to be strong there,” Klanderud said.
Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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