ALEA Sgt. Michael McBrayer, Guntersville Police Chief Jim Peterson and Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper pose for a photograph outside the command center on Friday. (W.C. Mann for The Tribune)
CULLMAN – Over the weekend, Rock the South threatened to triple Cullman’s population for two days. With more than two-thirds of those people trying to squeeze themselves into one small plot of land, the city’s emergency services had their hands full. The key to maintaining order, safety and the mental health of area law enforcement, fir, and EMS personnel was a unified command that brought all area agencies to one table and invited others to join.
Inside the command center
Heritage Park’s baseball complex announcers’ tower was turned into a multi-agency command center, in which all of those entities involved in emergency services could not only share information quickly, but also literally sit down at the same table. In one booth off the central work room, Cullman Police Department (CPD) staff communicated with nine different security teams in and around the park while constantly updating their specific locations on a large map. Cullman Fire Rescue (CFR) and Cullman Emergency Medical Services (CEMS) shared a booth, doing the same for medical personnel. In a third, Cullman County Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) and the National Weather Service (NWS) kept a close eye on weather conditions.
Using signage and landmarks, radio operators could dispatch medical or security teams to specific locations within the park quickly and accurately. In the center, interagency communication was simple. While The Tribune was there, a security team called in a medical emergency; getting a medical team on the way was as easy as a CPD officer walking to the next booth to share information.
According to CFR Chief Brian Bradberry, the command center made for “a lot of good cooperation. It really helps when you’ve got the police right there; they can call us if they need help, and if we need help we holler at them. And Phyllis (Little, CEMA director) over there: EMA’s been tremendous, too, and the National Weather Service. It’s a big deal, man! I’m telling you, it really helps. I’ll tell you, it’s about as good as it gets when it comes to a unified command post.”
- Cullman Police Department (CPD)
- Cullman County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO)
- Hanceville Police Department
- Guntersville Police Department
- Tuscaloosa Police Department
- University of Alabama Police Department
- Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (State Troopers) covered the south gate and posted officers around the large screen at the rear field.
- Cullman County Juvenile Probation was onsite to deal with issue involving minors.
All agencies combined to have approximately 100 sworn officers at the event, plus civilian volunteers assisting with matters like water distribution. Officers from the five police departments and CCSO were divided into multi-agency teams. Any officers working the event for the first time were placed with event veterans who were familiar with typical issues and the layout of Heritage Park. No officers patrolled alone.
What most people didn’t see included K9 teams with bomb-sniffing dogs brought in ahead of opening times to walk the park and check for explosive devices. And with the Las Vegas concert shooting still on everyone’s minds, authorities even had a two-agency counter sniper team present at the park.
- Cullman Fire Rescue (CFR)
- Cullman EMS (CEMS)
- Huntsville EMS
- Alabama Department of Public Health
- Wallace State Community College paramedic program
- Cullman Regional
- Regional Paramedical Services
- Air Evac Lifeteam
Bradberry said, “As always, I want to brag on the (Cullman Fire) department, but it takes a lot of different agencies to make this happen . . . Honestly, it’s just a big group effort.”
- Cullman Emergency Management Agency (CEMA)
- National Weather Service Huntsville (NWS)
A lightning strike within the 10-mile zone of concern around Heritage Park early Friday afternoon could have prompted an evacuation, but by studying live radar and satellite images on three computers in the command center, CEMA and NWS were able to determine that the storm was moving quickly away from Cullman. Evacuation was unnecessary, and the event went on with only a short rain delay.
Police Chief Kenny Culpepper also commended the civilian volunteers who came and helped with water distribution and other support activities, as well as Freddie Day Catering who fed emergency services personnel at the command center over the two days.
By the numbers
Medical emergencies ran the gamut from minor to critical, with heat exhaustion being the primary culprit and alcohol-related issues gaining ground in the evenings. Diabetic episodes, seizures and chest pains added to the count.
- 375 patients received minor first aid onsite
- 104 patients received treated onsite
- 30 serious patients were transported to the emergency room
Disorderly conduct accounted for the largest number of arrests and ejections, followed by public intoxication.
- 8 arrests took place inside the venue on Friday, 15 on Saturday, for a total of 23 arrests inside Heritage Park.
- 9 more arrests took place outside the venue; whether or not those arrests involved RTS patrons was unknown.
- Law enforcement ejected an unknown number of patrons; CPD personnel told The Tribune that, in the evenings, ejections were taking place one right after another.
- As to parking, and the clearing of parking areas at the ends of the evenings, CPD Lt. Jeff Warnke said, “Parking did really well, and the traffic plan worked really well, you know, so we got everybody out. Tuscaloosa PD’s here to help us, and they said that it was amazing, as fast as we cleared traffic out. They said they can’t do that at Bama during game day . . . They said, ‘Whatever it was, the way you’ve got it set up, worked.’”
Said Culpepper, “I was very, very pleased with the concert in general this year. We feel like it was very successful, but it’s something that is a tremendous group effort, and I’d like to thank all the other agencies that contributed, on the law enforcement side especially . . . That many people with such a big effort, you have to have a group cooperation. In that way, we’re so appreciative, and they did a fantastic job, as did our officers–all the Cullman police officers.”
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