The terror attack in Boston will have an impact on security this weekend in metro Atlanta — when more than 500,000 people are expected to attend a number of festivals — but it may not be uniform.
“Atlanta police officers will be visible, vigilant and prepared,” city Police Chief George Turner said, as his department faces the task of providing security for the 250,000 people expected at this weekend’s 77th annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival.
Organizers said security will be heightened in other places across the region as festival season makes its debut, but they gave few details.
Turner said that while there is no intelligence to suggest that the city is a target for any kind of attack in the aftermath of the bombings in Massachusetts, “nevertheless, we cannot let our guard down.”
“It is our hope we can do everything we can to plan effectively and make sure we are doing everything we can in advance and making sure all the people we have assigned to resolve issues are in place and be prepared to deal with any mass situation if it occurs,” Turner told AM 750 and 95.5FM News/Talk WSB.
The police chief advised people to be mindful of their surroundings and to participate in the city’s “See Something/Say Something” campaign, which is part of a national Homeland Security operation to encourage people “to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime, and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper local law enforcement authorities” by calling 911.
This weekend’s festivals come on the heels of the Final Four, when hundreds of thousands of people poured into venues throughout downtown Atlanta. Turner said the city’s Police Department and Fire Rescue Department successfully worked with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and that some of those operations, such as monitoring more than 1,200 public and private cameras through the Operation Shield Video Integration Center, remain in place for this week’s events. Special cameras will be installed around some areas of the city and K-9 units will be active, Turner added.
Large events are planned this weekend with festivals in Candler Park, Sandy Springs and Kennesaw, plus Friday night’s Taylor Swift concert at Philips Arena and the Georgia Tech spring football game and fireworks at Bobby Dodd Stadium, also on Friday night.
But the biggest event will be the Dogwood Festival, which presents a challenge with multiple entry points to Midtown’s Piedmont Park.
“Although we are not at liberty to divulge security specifics, our security coordinator is a professional with the APD who has been involved in developing the security plans for most of the larger events in Atlanta,” Brian Hill, the festival’s executive director, said in a statement. “I can assure you, our entire team is very aware of the concerns of the public, and we are working closely with all emergency services and the mayor’s office to ensure the public’s safety at the festival.”
FBI Special Agent Stephen Emmett said the bureau has been in touch with the APD and festival organizers about this weekend.
“It was a matter of routine, not necessarily a response to a threat or anything related to Boston,” Emmett said. “This is something the FBI does for special events. While the Dogwood Festival does not rise to what we consider a special event, we still wanted to partner with security and provide resource allocations. We want to make sure we have individuals on standby if needed and that our lines of communication are open.”
Elsewhere, officials with other festivals say they’ve reviewed security protocols and feel confident they are adequately staffed.
“Obviously, everyone’s very sensitive to the fact that the tragedy happened, and so unexpectedly and in such a very public way,” said Patrick Dennis, director of Sandy Springs Artsapalooza, which will be held Saturday and Sunday along Lake Forrest Drive. “We have a huge team of Sandy Springs police officers who will be on duty throughout the festival.”
He said festival organizers go through a vetting process in the selection of arts and crafts vendors.
“When they arrive, we know exactly who they are and we know exactly what they brought,” Dennis said. “That helps a great deal to keep our security as tight as possible.”
Security doesn’t pose quite as big a challenge to organizers of the Georgia Renaissance Festival in Fairburn, a ticketed event with controlled entrance points.
“We feel we have adequate security already,” director Jack Sias said, adding “there’s no protection that’s foolproof.”
Officials with the Big Shanty Festival in Kennesaw, which typically draws about 70,000 people, did not respond to requests for comment.
Officials with the Sweetwater 420 Fest said security will be heightened at the three-day event at Candler Park, located less than four miles from the site of the Dogwood Festival.
“We have been, and will continue to remain in close communication with law enforcement and other public safety representatives as we prepare for the festival this weekend,” read a statement from organizers, who expect crowds of up to 50,000 people.
Regardless, like clockwork, Thomas Bigelow will be at Sweetwater. Seventeen years ago, he was at Centennial Olympic Park the night two people died after domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph set off a bomb during the Summer Games.
“I’m not concerned about going out in public. I simply refuse to live my life in fear of senseless, random acts of inhumanity,” Bigelow said. “It sounds a bit cynical I suppose, but I just believe that changing up my life for the sake of these vile people validates their actions.”
Staff writer Mike Morris contributed to this article.
Here’s a rundown of festivals going on this weekend:
Atlanta Dogwood Festival
The festival attracts visitors and artists from all over the Southeast to Piedmont Park. Features include art, jewelry and handmade crafts, and music on two stages. Noon-10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Piedmont Park, 400 Park Drive N.E., Atlanta. 404-817-6642, www.dogwood.org.
Big Shanty Festival
Kickoff parade that starts at Adams Park and runs through downtown starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Features include more than 400 booths with arts and crafts, food vendors, merchants and live entertainment. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Main Street, Kennesaw. Facebook: Kennesaw Big Shanty Festival, 770-423-1330, www.kennesawbusiness.org.
Georgia Renaissance Festival
Costumed characters roam the 32-acre “kingdom” in Fairburn, inviting all comers to play along. Activities include shows such as juggling, music and comedic storytelling, a bazaar with more than 150 artisans, a petting zoo and amusement park rides. 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. weekends and Memorial Day, through June 2. 6905 Virlyn B. Smith Road, Fairburn. 770-964-8575, www.garenfest.com.
Amusement park rides and games, music and a weekend arts and crafts festival and petting zoo. Through Sunday. Times vary. Brook Run Park, 4770 N. Peachtree Road, Dunwoody. 770-396-8023, www.dunwoodylemonadedays.org.
Sandy Springs Artsapalooza
150 artists and crafters, music, children’s play area. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. 6100 Lake Forrest Drive N.E., Sandy Springs. 404-845-0793, www.sandyspringsartsapalooza.com.
Sweetwater 420 Fest
Part Earth Day celebration, part music festival and, of course, plenty of beer. 4:20-11 p.m. Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday, 12:30-7 p.m. Sunday. 585 Candler Park Drive N.E., Atlanta. 404-691-2537, sweetwater420fest.com.