An estimated 30,000 people were expected to check out the 15th annual Umoja Festival, which kicked off its colorful “festival for everyone” in Johnson City Friday afternoon and continued on Saturday.
When that many people congregate in the downtown area, city departments swing into action setting up detours, travel routes, police and fire protection, solid waste removal and emergency plans. This is the second Umoja Festival to be held downtown, and police were hopeful everything would go smoothly.
“We’re making sure all our traffic patterns are set up and working properly, and we’re making sure we have what we need on hand should anything happen,” said Johnson City Police Chief John Lowry before the festival’s start on Friday. “We’ll try to make sure this goes off without a hitch.”
A few hours before the start, police cruisers roamed the streets, stopping here and there to double check that certain streets were closed and that all hands were on deck. Two orange all purpose vehicles — one used by the fire department, another by the Washington County Emergency Management Agency — sat at the ready. These vehicles are equipped with firefighting equipment that could be used to stave off a fire until the fire department arrives. They are also used to transport people who may become ill, or those that have been placed under arrest.
The Washington County EMA also deployed a command post, which was positioned about one block from the back of the main stage.
“We use this as a staging area for officers,” said JCPD Sgt. Van Mominee, the department’s Community Policing Unit supervisor. “If someone is arrested, this is the first place they’ll come. We have radios tuned to all the frequencies of area law enforcement, fire departments and emergency services. This is the same unit used in April when the tornadoes struck.”
The costs for officers who worked the festival are borne by the city and come from the police department’s budget, said JCPD Maj. Mark Sirois.
“We use a combination of officers working overtime, and officers working their normal shift, such as the Community Policing Unit, with adjusted hours,” Sirois said. “The police department will have officers on duty throughout both days of the festival, and staffing will become heavier toward the late afternoon and early evening hours, in anticipation of the larger crowd.”
Sirois said about 15 officers were on duty each night dedicated to the festival. If more officers were needed, the on-duty patrol shift would be available to assist.
“Last year was the first year the Umoja/Unity Festival was held downtown, and there were no significant issues,” he said. “This year should be the same, and if everyone who attends practices common caution and courtesy, it will go a long way toward making the festival an enjoyable experience for all.”
The city’s traffic department formulated this year’s traffic routes, and helped place flashing detour and other signs, barrels and cones in and around downtown to help guide traffic flow. The police department is responsible for any manual guidance.
Meanwhile, the city’s solid waste division provided provides trash carts, recycling containers, cooking oil and gray water barrels at the festival.
“In addition we will have four employees on duty to empty these containers from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m. on Friday and from noon until midnight or later on Saturday,” said John Smith, solid waste services manager. “Expenses for services to these two events are absorbed in the solid waste budget.”
As the festival’s start grew near, Eva Hunter, Keep Johnson City Beautiful coordinator, walked up and down the streets Friday informing all vendors of available recycling services. These services also were available to the public.