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By its very nature, a county fair is fun, exciting, and safe. However, none of these attributes comes without a lot of hard work and planning. Numerous employees, agencies, vendors, and volunteers invest countless hours to ensure that those visiting the fair can have the best possible experience. On this day, we are visiting the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) where the Incident Management Team (IMT) is working diligently to protect fairgoers. Strategically located on the perimeter of the Clay County Fairgrounds, the EOC is heavily equipped with the latest in communications and top-end technology. An entire wall displays video of the numerous surveillance cameras scattered throughout the fairgrounds, and multiple white boards are covered with an incredible amount of data ranging from parking statistics to resource deployment. Seated around a long table in the corner of the room is the team that is responsible for navigating this monumental task. In essence, though they come from multiple departments serving multiple agencies, during the fair they are the air traffic controllers of the operation. Mandy Calley, a civilian working within the Clay County Sheriff’s Department takes the lead as she explains how the IMT functions. “Within this Team, we have multiple divisions that are responsible for numerous tasks. Because we have to be prepared for the absolute worst possible situation, we have to take everything into consideration when we plan and execute over these two weeks. We have sections for planned and unplanned work processes, a situation unit, and a logistics unit that can provide anything we need—be it water, generators, or even snake boots. There is an Operations unit that I can best compare to our “busy bees,’ meaning that they are the front line work force. We have a finance unit that helps with procurements and keeps track of our daily costs, a Documents unit that keeps meticulous records for numerous reasons including potential FEMA reimbursements and audits, and our Command unit that oversees a unified incident management. The Command unit can contain Battalion Chiefs from Fire Safety, Sheriff Department Chiefs, Public Information Officers, Liaison Officers, Safety Officers, etc.”

As she takes a breath from recalling and sharing all of this information, suddenly many at the table lean forward to study their laptops or phone screens. At first, it appears that an incident may be taking place that requires IMT attention, but then several of the team begin smiling as they show video of the solar eclipse occurring just outside of the reinforced walls of the EOC. It can be easy to overlook the fact that these highly organized, highly professional men and women are also just regular folks who have lives outside of their agencies, have bills to pay, regularly deal with the challenges of life, and who, especially when presented with such a spectacular event, are understandably curious and amazed. It was this moment of displayed humanity that prompts the question of where the members of this team serve when they weren’t running the IMT. Mrs. Calley begins to call out the positions: Crime Analysis, IT, Executive Staff Assistant, Records, Public Information Officer, and Chief…and that’s just the people who happen to be at this table at the moment. Scattered through the EOC are numerous fire safety members, Sergeants, and other deputies.

Out on the grounds, Fair Executive Director Tasha Hyder stays in constant communication with the IMT to ensure smooth and effective coordination throughout the entire operation. Calley shares the term “battle rhythm” to explain how they begin and end their day—capturing the flow of the event so that everyone can be prepared for both the planned and unplanned. When I ask her to expound on this

topic, Calley explains that some aspects are planned several months in advance. “We know how many days the fair will last, we know the layout, the staffing, and we can even have a pretty good idea when we will have larger crowds. For example, tonight’s sold out show is the group ‘For King and Country’. The show doesn’t start until 7pm, but we know that traffic will be significantly impacted beginning at 5pm. We will have to park a lot of cars, oversee the safety of a lot of people, and then exit a lot of people when the fair closes. Those things we can know and plan for. The things we can prepare for but can’t always foresee are bad storms, high winds, credible threats, and missing children. Much like the schools have a County Hazardous Incident Response Plan (CHIRP), we also have plans for those unexpected contingencies.”

We want to know how many cars have to be parked on a typical day, and Mrs. Calley states that on opening day, there were roughly 4000 cars. That number increased to 5000 on Friday. Over the weekend, the beautiful weather brought out 9000 cars Saturday and 11,000 on Sunday. “The teams managing parking are incredible. We have deputies and Public Service Aide (PSAs) handling a lot of the work, but we also have 14 year-old Explorers out there making things happen.” As our interview winds down, I ask the team if they are ever allowed to go enjoy the fair themselves. Mrs. Calley shares, “We’re not always tied to these desks. Sometimes I grab the radio and head over to get my eyes on things and enjoy the surroundings. Occasionally, we will sneak over and grab some fair food, but after a few days we usually end up just bringing in our own lunch. It’s fun, but we have a lot of work to do.”

As a postscript to this story, Sheriff Michelle Cook put out some fair statistics recently. Approximately 170,000 people in attendance, nearly 61,000 cars parked, 3 arrests, 35 various calls for service, 12 fights, and 85 missing kids including one “code rainbow” for a missing child with autism. Sheriff Cook added, “At one point, there were 8 missing kids (at the same time), but there was never any panic. The IMT and responding deputies coordinated and executed the plan flawlessly. All the children were ultimately returned safely to their loved ones and families were able to safely enjoy this great event.”

CEO Judson Sapp and Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook

Judson Sapp hosts Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook to discuss law enforcement issues. From the latest breaking news to cold cases, we answer the questions you have always wanted to ask. Tune in weekly!