As the spring season begins to bloom, the days get ever rainier, and the air is filled with the despair-ridden cries of allergy-stricken individuals, Oxford’s iconic Double Decker Festival draws near. The town’s festival set for April 27-28 draws thousands annually who shop for art and listen live music.
Something that might not cross the minds of many attendees, however, is the effort it took to set up this event. Between diverting and blocking off traffic and making sure all attendees are safe, Oxford Police Department leaders have their hands full for the whole ordeal.
Jeff McCutchen, a major at the police department, said preparation for next year’s Double Decker begins just a couple weeks after the current festival ends. McCutchen serves as the primary liaison between those who organize the events for Double Decker and the police.
“We’ll have a big debrief,” McCutchen said. “We’ll talk about what went right, what went wrong, if there’s any tweaks we can make. We’ll kind of table it until December, and then have a quick meeting.”
Around that time, police look at national trends and see if they can find anything concerning happening at other festivals around the country. Last year, the police department banned several types of potentially dangerous items from public gatherings like marches and festivals.
“It starts to gear our mind to, ‘Do we need more hard barricades for traffic issues. Do we need more security?’” McCutchen said. “What did others do right? What did they do wrong? Is there ways we can prep for that?”
Getting closer to the day of the festival, all teams related to festival safety and regulation enter a meeting with McCutchen, making sure everything they do is up to standard.
During the festival, parking is a big issue. To circumvent the situation, McCutchen recommended that festival-goers park at the high school, then use public transportation to get to the Square.
Aside from parking and crowds, general safety is the largest concern of the police department.
“How do we get to patients who passed out from heat or twisted ankles?” McCutchen said. “What about missing children? How can we serve the public in that way, respond quicker, get information out quicker?… Everybody is working, and it’s still not enough. You’re still at the mercy of good luck. You do your best from 3:30 that morning to 3 or 4 o’clock the next morning.”
A unique issue has arisen this year. On the day of the festival, a baseball game has also been scheduled against Louisiana State University. While the game is likely to draw some of the crowd away from the Square for a few hours, it is almost guaranteed that after the game, the Square will be hit with an overwhelming wave of traffic.
People using spaces near the Square as game day parking will also provide problems, as they might take spaces festival-goers might have planned to use.
“You’ll have all these people coming in from the game; they could be local people or regional people,” McCutchen said. “But now you’re also gonna have LSU coming in too.”
Another coming up that requires extensive planning is the annual Double Decker Spring Run. The event is a fundraiser for the Oxford Chamber of Commerce and is their main source of additional income.
The first step is figuring out the event’s route. “It scares us a little bit when we have to change our course, because our course was the same for quite a number of years,” said Pam Swain, senior vice president of the Oxford Chamber of Commerce.
Last year, the organization had to change the route due to excessive construction along the then-current route. Obstacles, such as barriers and road layout, and elevation and terrain play a large part in the formation of each year’s route.
“Oxford is definitely not a flat course to run,” Swain said. “We do want to give our runners as much of relief of the terrain as possible. It’s one thing to look at the steep hills, but then you also have to look at the long gradual hills, which are just grueling.”
Once the route is secured, the Chamber of Commerce begins to contact sponsors and engage their social media presence. They also get in touch with local artists and contract some to hand-craft awards for the winners of the Spring Run’s events.
The week of the event, the Chamber of Commerce Office is enveloped by a constant buzz as they try to prepare for it. Several thousand goodie bags need to be prepared so they can be handed off to race participants.
The day of the race, someone drives one last time throughout the route to make sure no surprise obstacles have appeared along the path. Emergency services arrive and prepare in case any accidents happen.
Weather is also monitored heavily leading up to the race, with the possibility of the event ending up postponed if any severe conditions hit. If no complications arise and the skies are clear, the Chamber of Commerce allows the race to begin.