Natchitoches officials pledge to take extra safety precautions at Christmas festival following Wisconsin tragedy

NATCHITOCHES, Louisiana (KSLA) – Natchitoches officials said they met to discuss increased security at the city’s annual Christmas festival in the wake of the Wisconsin tragedy in which five people have were killed and over 40 were injured when an SUV drove through crowds of people at their Christmas parade.

The town of Natchitoches released a statement Monday, November 22, saying their thoughts and prayers are with the people of Waukesha, Wisc.

They also said they were proactive regarding plans for the Louisiana City Christmas festival to ensure the safety of attendees. City officials met on the morning of Monday, November 22, to discuss additional safety measures and precautions to prevent a similar tragedy from happening in northwest Louisiana.

“It was unfortunate to see the events that happened in Waukesha,” said Williams. “Our hearts go out to the families and victims involved. Watching the news on Sunday night and knowing what we had to come, one of the biggest parades in Louisiana, we just wanted to make sure we picked up on a few points. We have routine meetings before the parade, but we wanted to give the public some confidence that we are doing everything we can to keep this event safe. There are a lot of things our public safety officials think about and plan on and we are very grateful for the work that has gone into these events over the years. We just wanted to make sure that we didn’t have any weak spots and that we were able to go all out and do what we need to do to make sure everyone comes to the parade safely. “

Mayor Williams says there is a detailed plan of operations that public safety personnel have developed over the years that the city follows for events like the Christmas festival. After the events, city officials, event coordinators and first responders have a debriefing to discuss what went well, what went wrong and what can be fixed for the year next.

“We want everyone to see this beautiful city and we want people to enjoy our downtown area,” said Williams. “We also want them not to worry about their safety and security. We want them to know that we have staff and agencies from different parts of the state coming to help us. We want people to come and enjoy, have fun and we want them to know that their safety is taken into account well before the parade, during the parade and after the parade.

Additional police forces are brought in by neighboring agencies; More than 50 officers from the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office and Louisiana State Police will be stationed at various locations along the river, in the crowds and at the barricades.

Natchitoches Police Chief Nikeo Collins said while nothing bad had happened in recent years, it was about not being complacent when it came to safety and security.

“You always have to be aware that there are people out there who want to do bad things,” Chief Collins said. “Fortunately, in this community, we have good working relations with the region’s law enforcement agencies, public security entities and the city government. We block the streets on the eve of festivals, we put up barricades, we divert traffic. On the day of the event, we have officers, deputies and soldiers positioned in key moving points and areas, creating an inner perimeter and an outer perimeter. If someone were to cross the outer perimeter, we are able to deal with that before they can reach the inner perimeter and potentially cause damage. :

All law enforcement officials attending the Christmas festival will be on the same radio frequency, Collins said, to ensure every officer, deputy and soldier are on the same page during the event.

The fire department says it has additional EMS throughout town and along the river, as well as other fire districts on hold.

“You prepare for the worst and hope for the best and we have been blessed,” said Natchitoches Fire Chief John Wynn. “We are really lucky to have the working relationships we have in this area. We have a lot of assets available to use. During the festival, we divide the city in two. We have mutual aid agreements with the fire districts outside the city and the Natchitoches Parish Ambulance Service will have four ambulances throughout the city and will have mutual aid agreements with eight surrounding parishes in order to that we have access to more people quickly if we need them. We also have air assets if necessary. We are ready.

The festival kicked off this weekend without a hitch, with around 5,000 people attending the festival. Thousands of people are expected to come to town over the next few weeks.

Click here to see the full schedule of events.

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Susan W. Lloyd