by Jeff Thomas
This Mardi Gras was marred by two shocking deaths. Yet despite these tragedies, parade goers generally feel safe. You ever wonder why Mardi Gras in New Orleans is so safe?
Of course, you know the NOPD is still the best crowd control department in the country. And the state police supplement the efforts of the NOPD in the French Quarter. Hundreds of thousands of people in a small area and yet there are no large scale catastrophes. But if something were to happen, you might be happy to know that there are people in place to help protect us all.
Did you know the US Department of Homeland Security has a huge presence at Mardi Gras? You probably have noticed the helicopters cruising the sky up and down the parade routes. Probably, you don’t know how they can actually help if they are needed.
That’s because the command center is not on the parade route. Like something out of a spy thriller, the most state-of-the-art big rig is parked at a remote location. In this rig special agents monitor local cameras that can zoom in and give precise identities and track movements and send that info up to the helicopters who can shine lights and help local officers on the ground. In fact, the command center can coordinate audio communication between the officers, helicopter pilots and command agents who can track suspects across a wide area.
James Bond and Jason Bourne would be proud. And the citizens and visitors to New Orleans can rest assured that the best technology available is on the ground and in the air. “We are just there in a support role,” said Francisco J. Rodriguez, who serves as the Director of the New Orleans Air and Marine Branch of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He is the team leader of the pilots who provide air support along the parade routes.
So New Orleans is not a soft target during Mardi Gras. Agents drive from as far away as Detroit and Buffalo to man the command center. They work Superbowls, college football championships, natural disasters and can even support the President of the United States. So, the big crowds of Mardi Gras are what the command center is designed to combat. Multiple cameras, several police agencies, helicopters in the sky, cell phone calls and pressure are seamlessly integrated into the mobile command center, analyzed and a precise strategy is sent to the boots on the ground.
“We want to make sure all citizens are safe and can enjoy Carnival,” said Rhonda Lawson, Public Affairs Officer at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Go catch your cups and beads and don’t worry. Cause the eyes in the sky and the boots on the ground are coordinated and they are ready to catch anyone who gets out of line.