Extra work by city employees keeps March Madness safe for basketball lovers
LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 5, 2013) — A kind of euphoria takes over the city in March – it’s known as March Madness.
The city will soon play host to that annual favorite, the Sweet 16 Boys State High School Basketball Tournament. When it’s over, there’s a breather and the NCAA regional basketball tournament comes to town.
For Kentucky basketball fans, this is heaven.
For city workers in several divisions, especially the police and fire departments, making sure the thousands of fans and the players that come to Lexington during March Madness are safe during their stay means some extra work.
From street sweeping to hospitality rooms, the city puts its best foot forward during the tournaments and this year is no exception, according to Mayor Jim Gray’s office.
Police has its plan ready, said Lt. James Lombardi of the Division of Police. City police are responsible for both internal and external security during the Sweet 16, which begins Wednesday (March 6) and finishes Sunday (March 10), at Rupp Arena.
The community policing unit, known as CLEAR, and its 18 officers will be responsible for internal security at Rupp Arena, along with 30 police recruits, Lombardi said.
The traffic unit with 15 officers and five recruits will be responsible for external security. They plan to have officers on every street corner around Rupp Arena and several blocks away, he said. They are primarily tasked with getting pedestrians safely across streets and motorists in and out of parking lots.
“Everybody has been told not to take time off during the tournaments,” Lombardi said. “We will be working 12-hour shifts for the duration of the tournament. “It’s all hands on deck. It takes all of us from patrolman to commander to pull this off.”
This year, there is a new wrinkle in the plans. Police will have to work Sunday, since that is when the championship game will be played.
“UK is going to have a home game Saturday morning and then we have the two semi-final games of the Sweet 16 Saturday night and the championship game on Sunday,” Lombardi said. “In past years, the championship game was played on Saturday night so this year we will have the tournament running over five days instead of the usual four days.”
For the regional rounds of the NCAA tournament, Lexington Police will only have responsibility for external security. Internal security at Rupp will be handled by the University of Kentucky police department and the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department, Lombardi said.
The NCAA tournaments will be March 20-23 at Rupp Arena. Games will be Thursday and Saturday, with practice sessions on Wednesday and Friday.
There should be less of a traffic impact from the NCAA because many of the people coming to the games will be staying at nearby hotels and not driving cars, Lombardi said. However, police are planning on capacity crowds during the two days games are being played.
The Division of Fire and Emergency Services will have several paramedics on duty, available to help players if needed. They also will station and staff their command unit around Rupp Arena for communications purposes, said Battalion Chief Paul See with the fire department’s Communications and Computer Operations unit.
“Our role is not as extensive at the police role,” he said. “As long as there are no emergencies, we really won’t have a role.”
Six to eight paramedics will be involved over the course of the NCAA tournament, a minimum of two per game, See said.
Although there is increased traffic in the city during March Madness, the Division of Traffic Engineering isn’t making any special plans, said Steve Cummins.
“We’ll be monitoring the situation but we won’t be keeping the Traffic Management Center open during the night games,” Cummins said. “We’ve done it enough years that it just takes a few changes here and there.”
“We don’t anticipate a lot of issues, particularly with the NCAA,” he added. “Most of the NCAA visitors will be staying in downtown hotels. We have a harder time with high school graduations than we do with the tournament.”
Another city employee is busy during the tournaments, although she is technically on vacation.
Parks and Recreation’s Debbie Holleran takes vacation time and works as a caterer for all the hospitality suites, the VIP rooms, the coaches rooms and all the places where dignitaries gather. She also feeds police officers and firefighters.
At the hospitality rooms during Sweet 16, Debbie estimates she has more than 70,000 visits. She and her staff serve over 80 gallons of soup, 24,000 fountain drinks, 1,200 sandwiches, 3,100 bottled drinks, 1,200 bottles of tea, 168 pounds of vegetables, 70 pounds of cheese and 75 pounds of pre-popped bags of popcorn.
When all the hoopla is over, it’s time for the city to send in the street sweepers. The two sweepers responsible for downtown, sweep “the whole time the tournaments are down at Rupp,” said Tony King, a supervisor with the Division of Streets and Roads.