Special to the PRESS
The month of March on South Padre Island doesn’t conjure up thoughts of the start of spring, spring cleaning, or the time to plant annuals. Rather, it’s the anticipation of a flock of spring breakers, endless traffic, patrol cars, sirens, a crowded beach, and rowdy partying during most of March.
Spring break is a huge effort, and the City of South Padre Island has worked out the logistics and details.
“We are looking forward to a great spring break,” James Pigg, South Padre Island’s fire chief, said. “We are ready.”
Claudine O’Carroll, SPI Chief of Police; James Pigg, SPI Fire Chief; and, Ed Caum, SPI Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVC) Director, provided a spring break update on Thursday, February 13, at the Padre Island Brewing Company. Around 60 people attended.
Topics ranged from law enforcement, traffic control, social media monitoring, beach cleanup, the emergency operation center, emergency units, beach patrol, promoting spring break for students and families and safety advice for spring breakers.
O’Carroll has been with the SPI Police Department since 1998, making this spring break her 22nd.
“We have a great collaboration of state and federal law enforcement partners from all agencies we’ve had in the past,” O’Carroll said. “Since 2017, we’ve had 180 law enforcement officers on the island between the second and third week of March, including 40-45 officers we hire from around Texas for two weeks.”
The heaviest flow of visitors to the island is anticipated on Texas week (March 7-14) and Oklahoma week (March 14-21).
O’Carroll reported that in 2019, 410 people were processed through the jail in a two week period, down from 2018, which was 564 people.
The focus is to facilitate getting people home safely in a cab. Those that are incarcerated are beyond taking care of themselves. A paramedic will be made available for those with medical needs in the heavier days. About 20-25 jailers will be hired to facilitate and speed up the process.
Between 20 and 25 traffic control officers will be hired for locations like the north and south ends of the Island, to facilitate access to and from the Causeway.
“They know the traffic flow and they will keep it moving,” O’Carroll said.
The Island Metro, formerly “The Wave,” will run its current schedule.
SPIPD will be monitoring social media posts concerning the island, tracking where spring breakers are going and their possible house parties.
“Social media monitoring is very beneficial to us,” O’Carroll said. “We have a team of analysts that monitor social media (Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram) in the emergency operation center (EOC). A response team follows up after viewing social media and shuts the party down.”
Beach cleanup will be done before the evening each day starting from the south end of the Island then north towards Clayton’s Beach Bar.
O’Carroll summed up past experiences of spring break on the island. “We’ve been doing this for a while,” she said. “The leadership team with the PD has been here 20-plus years. Spring break has become the norm for us but we adapt to the ever-changing environment because it does change. There were years where traffic was a big focus, years where intoxication was the big focus, and years where we saw lots of narcotics. As we progress over the years, we try to incorporate tools that help us fight those different elements.”
An Emergency Operation Center (EOC) will be set up at City Hall the second weekend in March. The EOC will be equipped with TV’s displaying footage from the beach, where they will be monitored 13-14 hours a day and up to 24 hours per day if needed.
“The EOC essentially becomes an anchor point and will provide a broad overview of what’s going on without being out on the streets,” Pigg said.
A triage tent (mobile medical unit) will be set up at the park on the south side of Ramada with a helicopter staged behind that. Those with minor injuries (cuts and bruises) to intoxications will be moved to this location. A doctor, nurses and paramedics will staff the triage tent. The City of Weslaco will bring in the emergency M-Bus and the City of Los Fresnos will bring in extra ambulances.
Spring breakers are encouraged to have a buddy system throughout their stay, especially when swimming. Beach patrol will include lifeguards on both ends of the Island with roving units in between. Ice chests with water will be set up at first aid stations to keep visitors hydrated. Seventy “porta potty” units (regular and ADA) will be strategically placed throughout the city.
Ed Caum reported that, as of last week, South Padre Island has 30 percent less hotel bookings than last year. This may be due to travelers hoping to find better deals by waiting, Caum said.
The city started promoting spring break in September, by talking to Texas colleges and universities. Caum said spring break is also a time for families, and they are looking at entertainment options that all groups can enjoy.
“This is the most risk-managed, well-set-up spring break I’ve seen,” Caum said.
The next Coffee and Conversation is scheduled for Thursday, February 27.