The city of Aspen is changing up a few elements of its Fourth of July operations with an eye toward public safety.
The police and special events departments have identified the holiday as one to focus on, as they work together to enhance security measures at Aspen’s high-profile events.
“The people of Aspen are fortunate to live in a relatively safe community in an environment that enables us to feel somewhat detached from hazards and threats that are more prevalent in other communities,” Police Chief Richard Pryor wrote in an update to city council this week.
He said the Colorado Information Analysis Center, which focuses on preventing terrorism, has not identified any threats to Aspen’s Fourth of July celebrations.
“However, it is our responsibility to support special events when considering the modern-day environment which includes large volumes of people in limited spaces, dignitary visits, and high-profile events with a national and international reach,” Pryor wrote.
This year, consultants from T&M Protection Resources conducted an all-hazards threat and risk assessment for the city. The results will be presented to city council this fall. The firm mostly deals with situations in New York City, so the scale of Aspen events does not compare in the least, but there are oddities to the natural landscape that make this area notable.
“The thing they found most striking was that we are really a dead-end valley half the year,” said assistant police chief Bill Linn. “And even when we are not a dead-end valley there are such limitations on our ability to move people in and out of town.”
In order to create a wider flow for traffic this year, the detour around the parade route has been changed. Hallam Street will be open for two-way traffic, and the Colorado State Patrol will help out so APD officers can focus on being on the ground in town. The detour will begin at 9 a.m. and conclude by 3 p.m.
Linn said the detour will be the most noticeable difference to event attendees this year. There will also be an increase in barriers keeping traffic away from the parade route, and the county’s incident management team will be in place.
“It’s just a framework on which you can build a command structure for any kind of event,” Linn said, including natural disasters, accidents, or an intentional act. July 3 marks the one-year anniversary that residents of Basalt were under mandatory evacuation due to a fire that broke out on Basalt Mountain. Linn said none of the work they are doing this year to ramp up security is meant to cause fear, but in reality there are only two ways to get people out of Aspen, and resources like ambulances and firetrucks are scarce.
“We are high profile, we have lots of people, and yet we have a limited number of resources,” Linn said.
The Fourth of July parade is one of the biggest city-organized events of the year, along with New Year’s Eve. Linn said the two holidays were identified as times to work on increasing public safety because once they perfect the big events, the strategies can be easily scaled down to smaller events.
“If something bad were to happen, what are the risks that we face and how can we mitigate those and do our best to plan and prepare,” Linn said.
He said it is prudent to be precautious, even when no threats are reported.
“It’s incumbent on us as a city to be proactive and be more forward-thinking, rather than say, ‘Because it's always worked this way we can continue to do it this way,’” said Linn. “It’s just not that kind of world anymore.”