Local police forces and first responders are ramping up their preparations to ensure the crowds that descend on English Bay for the annual fireworks event in Vancouver are safe.
Fireworks for the first night of the three-night Honda Celebration of Light will go off tomorrow, Saturday, July 29, with Japan taking to the night skies. This will be followed by the United Kingdom on Wednesday, August 2 and Canada on Saturday, August 5.
There have been relatively few incidents at the fireworks in recent years, apart from liquor pour outs, liquor seizures, and a handful of arrests for offences such as public intoxication.
Of course, few details are being made available about how the security and safety plans will unravel, but attendees at the beaches, parks, and neighbourhoods surrounding the bay can expect a deployment of hundreds of officers alongside the use of a police helicopter.
“In many of the events we’ve had so far, such as Canada Day, that presence has been very welcome by the public through many comments to our officers. We’ve had many comments from the public thanking them for being present,” said Vancouver Police Superintendent Michelle Davey during a press conference today.
A visible presence
In recent years, in response to incidents of terrorism at public events elsewhere in the world, officers carrying semi-automatic weapons have been seen securing key areas at major Vancouver events.
“That will continue to be a regular tool in our tool box to be able to have on hand should something occur and require something of that nature to be able to address it,” Davey said.
As well, to prevent vehicular attacks, heavy City-owned dump trucks filled with sand have been strategically parked at key thoroughfares where large crowds roam.
“We are paying close attention to world events, and as a result we look at the plans we’ve made in previous years and we adjust accordingly based on world events,” said Davey.
“As tragic as those events are, we unfortunately have to take measures now to ensure those types of events do not happen in our city. You can be sure the Vancouver Police Department is very aware of those events and has taken steps to mitigate that from happening in Vancouver.”
How the public can help
The Metro Vancouver Transit Police department says the public can play a part by remaining vigilant throughout the night and reporting any oddities to authorities.
“The extra eyes and ears that are out there looking for suspicious packages, things that look out of place, people who are loitering around and looking nervous, please feel free to report it to the Transit Police or the Vancouver Police as well,” said Barry Kross, the Transit Police Deputy Chief Officer of Support Services. “That is a big way for how we keep big events like this safe for everyone.”
And this includes the illegal use of drones.
In fact the police are asking everyone to leave their drones at home; officers will seize any drones they see, and if they see it flying they will make “every effort” to identify who the operator is.
Attendance at fireworks nights typically varies between 200,000 and 500,000 people, depending on weather and scheduling.
Last year, the appeal of the show staged by the Walt Disney Company over the long weekend attracted a record 600,000 people.
With crowds amassing hours earlier than usual, a decision was made by police to close access to English Bay Beach at 9:30 pm, 30 minutes before the fireworks were due to start, because there was no more room.
“We definitely had a situation last year when we had a significant crowd for the Celebration of Light,” said Davey. “So we have adjusted our plan this year accordingly to make sure we are able to have people enter the area safely as well as leave safely.”
Officials with Vancouver Fire Rescue are warning that the risk of fire at beaches and parks, especially Stanley Park, is elevated due to the warm and dry conditions.
This year, fire equipment has been repositioned around the viewing sites so that responders can better respond to any incidents.
Open fires are forbidden, and earlier this year Vancouver City Council implemented a fine of $500 for anyone who is caught throwing away still-burning materials like cigarettes.
Levels of garbage left at the beaches, parks, and roads have gone down considerably over the past decade, but there is still room for improvement.
Cleaning crews with the Vancouver Park Board are deployed at 5 am the morning after and have areas ready for public use by approximately 9 pm.
Attendees are encouraged to use one of 20 waste and recycling stations and leave with what they brought to the public viewing area.
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