SXSW and Austin package bombings stretch police resources

EMS sets up a SXSW patient collection point at 5th Street and Congress Avenue in downtown Austin. (Photo:Bettie Cross)

A “nightmare" is how an Austin security expert is describing the timing of the package bombings and South by Southwest. Extra officers are required to police the 10-day festival and now the Austin Police Department (APD) is also having to respond to hundreds of calls about suspicious packages.

“This is your worst nightmare if you're a part of the Austin public safety community, from fire to EMS to the police department,” said Fred Burton, chief security officer for Stratfor.

Burton is an authority on security and terrorism. He oversees Stratfor's analysis of global security developments and consults with clients on security-related issues affecting their business assets or personal safety.

Burton has investigated a number of bombings during his career. He knew when the package bombings started there would be more and he says adding SXSW into the mix just further stretches APD’s resources.

“You've got a huge international special event that you're trying to manage with SXSW, then all of a sudden you've got random bombings that are drawing resources away from your requirements to protect this large scale special event,” said Burton.

Wednesday is also the day APD and EMS dramatically increase their presence at SXSW. It's the start of the music portion of the festival and is a time when first responders usually see an increase in 911 calls.

To handle any problems EMS is setting up a patient collection point at 5th Street and Congress Avenue. It is the go-to spot for anyone who needs medical help. APD is also increasing its presence by adding 120 additional officers specifically trained in crowd control.

“It's sick,” said Ray Simmons as he walked to the Austin Convention Center.

Simmons is closely following developments in the Austin package bombings as he heads downtown for SXSW. He's on top it, but can't say the same for many other badge holders.

“I think there should have been a little bit more broadcasting of the events so that some of the people who are visiting should be aware of it as well,” said Simmons.

Burton says by using both local and national resources, law enforcement should be able to deal with whatever the next few days have in store.

“Fortunately you have federal partners to help like the FBI, ATF and US Postal Inspection. But at the end of the day this is like the worst nightmare for the City of Austin,” said Burton.

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