By Mary Kate McGrath - March 2, 2020
On March 17, people across the globe will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and Irish culture with parades, music, dancing, traditional food, and of course, by wearing green. For college and university safety managers, the holiday can pose unique safety challenges.
Alcohol-related risks are higher on St. Patrick's Day - law enforcement see a spike in drunk driving incidents, with nearly 39% of all fatal crashes on the holiday involving a drunk driver in 2016, according to the United States Department of Transportation. That number increased to 69% between midnight and 6am. Additionally, 30 of the 10,265 drunk driving incidents which resulted in someone dying in 2015 occurred on St. Patrick’s Day.
In addition to an increase in alcohol related safety incidents, large crowds make St. Patrick’s Day event safety difficult to manage. For example, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s “Blarney Blowout”, a pre-St. Patrick’s Day celebration, can draw large crowds to off-campus parties. Managing safety for the event has not been simple - in 2015, thousands of “Blarney Blowout” celebrators became unruly, with police responding to numerous incidents fights, noise complaints, and highly-intoxicated individuals. Over 70 arrests were made over the course of the weekend, many of which came from an off-campus apartment complex, where large crowds converged to celebrate the annual event. Many college or university campuses face crowd management challenges, and making sure a campus police are adequately staffed during holiday-related events and receive adequate crowd-management training is essential.
One additional concern has cast concern over St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. This year, outbreak of the coronavirus or COVID-19 has forced state and local safety managers to reconsider large, public celebrations of the holiday. For students, it’s important to have relevant information about COVID-19, and to understand the potential safety risk the virus poses. In addition, campus health teams can communicate common coronavirus prevention best-practices, such as frequent hand-washing, being up-to-date on flu shots, and staying home from class or other events when sick. College and university campus leaders which host events for the holiday should also communicate with relevant public health authorities, and make decisions taking into account their advice and direction.
Given the elevated risk St. Patrick’s Day festivities can pose on campus and in the surrounding community, it’s essential for campus safety managers to craft a comprehensive safety plan ahead of the holiday.
For college and university campuses looking to manage safety for students, faculty, and staff during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, there are several key safety strategies. Below are several key tips for helping mitigate risk on a holiday where large-crowds and alcohol consumption increase risk, including installing physical security measures and providing safe rides home for students.
College or university safety teams should issue a notice to students to be mindful of their behavior. For example, Boston University issues an annual Spring Break and St. Patrick’s Day Safety Message, urging students to celebrate responsibly. Students were reminded to lock up and secure off-campus apartment units ahead of the break, and to ask neighbors to keep an eye on their home for suspicious behavior while out of town. BU also reminded students of policy on alcohol and student behavior ahead of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in the South End, reminding attendees that the university has a zero-tolerance policy for public drinking, excessive alcohol consumption, or underage drinking.
In addition to offering safety reminders and updates on student policy, a campus can also offer key safety tips. Find several common safety tips offered below:
Physical security measures, such as barricades or fences, can go a long way to managing crowds of people. For any campus hosting or located near a major parade route or other celebration, consider siphoning crowds with these measures to make monitoring safety more manageable. Physical barriers are an effective crowd-management strategy - for example, Boston has successfully used crowd barriers during major parades, whether it for St. Patrick's Day or a sports-related victory. In particular, physical security can be effective for school’s hosting, or located near, major St. Patrick’s Day Parade routes.
Often, students traveling across campus at-night for St. Patrick’s Day Parties might have safety concerns. Additionally, students who are not participating in holiday activities might be worried about travel near parade-routes or other celebrations. Both of these concerns can be addressed by ensuring a program to offer chaperoned walks across campus, or a ride home from an off-campus event, are made available. Communicate to students that they have an option to get home, even if it feels they are stranded without a ride.
A campus safety app can help college or university students stay safe on St. Patrick’s Day. The app can act as a directory for students looking for transportation options, including nearby public transportation or a list of phone numbers for local taxi companies. For students looking to access a schools Safe Ride or Safe Walk program en route home from a party, the app can also connect them to safety teams. After communicating to students that the holiday is among the deadliest for drunk driving, an app provides students with an accessible way to find safe transportation.
During an emergency, the app can also be used to contact 9-1-1 or local law enforcement directly. If a student is attending a parade or off-campus event to celebrate the holiday, it might be a comfort to know that a simple strategy to contact emergency teams. Encouraging students to use the app to reach out for help during an emergency situation, whether it is an alcohol-related health emergency or a concern about a suspicious behavior from an individual at a parade, communication is key. In addition, the app provides real-time location data to safety teams, helping find students in a crowd during an emergency and get them help as quickly as possible.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
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