With UT, Texas Legislature in session, Austin taking extra steps toward safety during SXSW

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Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

Since UT’s spring break does not fall on the same week as South by Southwest this year, several city departments and government agencies are taking steps to combat a potential increase in traffic and crime in Austin during the festival.

The last time spring break and SXSW did not align was before 1997, according to UT’s academic calendar archive. In February, a slew of city officials gathered at a press conference and outlined safety measures that are in effect today through the end of the festival.

Bill Manno, Austin’s corporate special events program manager, said the city will see an extra 200,000 to 400,000 people throughout the nine days of the festival.

“This year we have a new challenge in that spring festival season and South by Southwest do not coincide with spring break,” Manno said at the press conference. “We also have the state legislature in session, so it’s a very busy time with lots of things going on.”

To help with the influx of people, Manno said the Austin Police and Fire Departments, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the Department of Homeland Security are collaborating on safety efforts.

 

Austin police chief Brian Manley said there are a number of concrete measures in place to prevent crime and elevate safety, including fully staffing the downtown patrol district.

“On top of the officers that we bring in to keep the festival safe, we will also bring in members of our special response team who specialize in crowd management,” Manley said at a press conference. 

Manley said No Refusal, a city initiative that expedites the warrant process for officers seeking to obtain blood or breath samples from suspected drunk drivers, will be active both weekends of the festival.

“We will also have both the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and APD patrolling the events — not only for general safety, but also for alcohol violations – in particular, minors in possession,” Manley said.

And with the Austin serial bombings partly taking place during SXSW last year, Manley said APD is prepared to defend against a mass-fatality incident.

“We prepared for … what may occur and what has occurred in other communities around the country, and we have a response plan in place,” Manley said.

To control traffic, Austin Transportation director Robert Spillar said there are designated rideshare pick-up and drop-off zones around downtown. Additionally, several downtown streets — including East Sixth Street and Fifth Street, parts of Red River Street and Rainey Street — will be blocked off and only accessible to pedestrians, Spillar said.

“We’ll be putting up barricades around this event to secure the event and keep many revelers as safe as possible throughout,” Manley said. “The scooters and bikes will not be allowed through the barricades.”

Manley said UT still being in session did not affect the overall approach to safety at SXSW. If spring break did align with the festival, Manley said APD would have these same resources in place. SXSW did not respond to The Daily Texan’s request for comment.

UTPD officer Jeanne Hall said the department will be completely staffed during SXSW, but the department does not expect crime from the festival to spill over onto campus.

“We actually won’t change our normal day to day procedures,” Hall said in a statement to the Texan. “As far as crimes or any other incidents, we really don’t see an influx during South by Southwest on campus.”