Originally created 01/01/00

Safety officials see few difficulties



Staff writers Sylvia Cooper and Heidi Coryell spent most of Friday at the Emergency Management Command center in the News Building on Broad Street to see officials in action as they kept guard at the biggest street party in Augusta's history. Below is what they saw on the eve of the new year.

9:15 a.m.:

Melinda Moody, the operations manager for Augusta Recreation Department, is in her 27th hour on the job, having begun working at 7:15 a.m. Thursday.

She has supervised the barricading of the roads, beginning at midnight Thursday.

"The men closed off the roads, put out the road-closed signs with the barricades, some of the stage pieces, all the trash receptacles," she says. "We put out bleachers, tables and chairs at every location. We brought in golf carts for people to use."

All day Thursday, she and other employees had prepared for the job they would have to do after midnight.

She expected to go home at 10 a.m. Friday and be back at 1 a.m. today to begin taking everything down, loading it up and cleaning up. It is all supposed to be done by 11 a.m. today.

10 a.m.:

The first situation to arise Friday is that a man leaving one of the downtown nightclubs ran through the barricade at Sixth and Broad streets. The second is that the automatic switch that turns off the street lights downtown in the mornings has cut off the power around Seventh Street and has to be overridden to get power to the stages.

"Mike, why don't you go ahead, between Sixth and 12th where we have the three stages located at, go ahead and check all that power to be on the safe side," Assistant Recreation Director Robert Howard says into a two-way radio. "The area I'm concerned about is the area around the three stages."

10:30 a.m.:

Two German shepherds -- Ajax and Dingo -- from Fort Gordon trained to sniff out explosives sniff their way down Broad Street around the main stage at 11th Street.

Vendors are setting up on the nearly deserted streets as officials try to locate the owners of a Volkswagen Rabbit and a red pickup parked on the street. The Volkswagen is in the spot a tent was supposed to go.

1:30 p.m.:

Lt. Gary Powell says everything is running smoothly.

"I hope I can say the same thing at 1:30 tonight," he adds.

2 p.m.:

The first shift of 46 recreation employees who would work on the event until 8 p.m. arrives and is issued two-way radios and orange vests by department program Manager Robby Kiser. Another shift would come on at 8 p.m. and work until 1 a.m.

3 p.m.:

The party begins.

4:15 p.m.:

Lt. Powell reports the first minor problem of the day.

"Too many people bringing in dogs and bicycles," he says. "No pets allowed. No roller skates, no skateboards, no glass. If that's the only problem we have to report, we'll be happy with it."

5:30 p.m.:

The Christmas lights along Broad Street blink to life, illuminating the dusky December evening.

Almost simultaneously, however, something goes afoul. Officials stationed at the emergency operations center within The Chronicle building are not able to transmit on their two-way radios.

Instead of words, the 800 megahertz radios only buzz at the officers.

Step out of the building, and the interference disappears. Exactly what is going wrong is not immediately obvious, but the solution is.

"We're going outside," Lt. Powell announces to the handful of officers in the command center.

Officials will later discover that printing presses gearing up in the back of the newspaper building are causing the interference.

It takes less than 10 minutes for officers to move a long table and several chairs out of the windowless command center and onto the sidewalk outside an emergency exit adjacent to the building.

"Every good plan has got to have a little flexibility," Lt. Powell says.

Dance music and the voices of choral groups make it slightly more difficult to hear the cell phones, hand-held radios and communications earpieces. But it is a small price to pay.

"We like it better out here," Lt. Powell says. "It's got more of a party feel."

8 p.m.:

The Parks and Recreations department is making its only shift change of the night.

A team of about 20 parks and recreation employees take over for those who have been at their "battle stations" since 2 p.m.

Lavern Wiggins is going home to his wife and children, where he is hosting a party for more than 100 people. His wife was the one scheduled to work tonight, but he volunteered to take her place.

"If something is going to happen, I'd rather it happen to me," he says.

9:30 p.m.:

The evening has been quiet for Ernie Doss's crew of Rural/Metro Ambulance staff. Mr. Doss is general manager of the East Central Georgia region.

Tonight's celebration is the kind of event emergency officials say they dream of: uneventful.

"It's spread out over such a large area," Mr. Doss says. "There's a lot of people, but there's a lot of elbow room."

The Red Cross first aid station in the Imperial Theatre hasn't seen a single person all night either, he reports.

Mr. Doss glances at a paramedic snacking on barbecue ribs inside her ambulance.

"You know its a slow night when there's a bottle of Texas Pete on the dashboard," he says.

Midnight:

As fireworks explode over Broad Street and the Savannah River, not everyone is looking skyward.

"Tell 'em not everybody should keep their eyes in the sky," Battalion Chief Ron Shirey says.

The boom of fireworks resounds off the downtown buildings.

Police officers and fire officials are patting one another on the back.

"Happy New Year!" says Capt. Ray Myers of the police department. "I haven't seen ya since last year."