After Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nev., security has been stepped up at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which begins Saturday with an early morning mass ascension.
Among extra measures, for the first time people entering Balloon Fiesta Park at all gates will have their bags searched, as will people boarding park-and-ride buses, fiesta officials announced Thursday during a safety briefing at Balloon Fiesta Park.
Taking part in the briefing were representatives of city, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies, city and county fire departments, government officials and Public Service Company of New Mexico.
Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales said bag searches were being considered even before the Las Vegas shooting, but that tragic event was the deciding factor in the immediate implementation.
Banned from the park are firearms and other weapons; bicycles (a secure bike valet service is offered); skateboards and hoverboards; unauthorized vehicles, including ATVs and golf carts; animals (except service animals); political signs or promotions; and displays of gang colors and gang signs.
The entire 360-acre Balloon Fiesta Park has been designated a “no drone zone” during the fiesta, said balloonmeister Sam Park, meaning these aircraft, often used for aerial photography, may not be flown.
Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden said APD was also instituting a number of “enhanced” security measures, though he declined to say what they were, noting that if he disclosed them “they wouldn’t be ‘enhanced.’ ”
He did say that APD would have “a large number of assets doing traffic control as well as on-site security.”
The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, State Police and city and county fire departments will also have a large presence on and around the field, representatives said.
Fire personnel will conduct propane and vendor inspections, and emergency medical services and hazardous materials teams will be available.
State Superintendent of Insurance John Franchini said that this year all balloonists’ vehicles and trailers will carry a placard indicating that the vehicles are participating in an auto theft program and may be fitted with GPS tracking devices. The idea came from an auto theft task force.
“Albuquerque leads the nation in auto theft, and we’re second in property theft, so we think this will be a great deterrent,” Franchini said. He said a similar program used during the State Fair resulted in the recovery of 10 stolen vehicles and 16 arrests.
In addition, a secure on-site parking area has been designated for pilot and chase crew vehicles this year, and parking areas at Albuquerque hotels, motels and other overnight lodgings will be monitored, said Balloon Fiesta event coordinator Paul Petrehn.
“Tag Your Tot” will again be available, allowing children to be fitted with a special wristband containing a parent’s cellphone number to quickly help reunite them if they are separated. Wristbands will be provided in the on-field Public Safety Building, at about midpoint on the east side of the field.