By Josephine Peterson
For the first time in 119 years, the Washington State Fair has installed metal detectors and mandatory bag checks to secure the Puyallup fairgrounds.
Stacy Van Horne, a spokesperson for the Washington State Fair, said guest safety is at the forefront of fair officials’ minds. The fairgrounds will have more police officers than ever before.
“We want them to have a good time, but safety is the number one priority,” Van Horne said. “It’s adding a layer that helps our guests feel safer.”
There will be random metal detector checks, and security will have wands to quickly scan fairgoers. All bags will be searched, Van Horne said.
The Washington State Fair is the sixth largest in the nation, drawing about 1 million people over 20 days.
In light of recent acts of violence, like the shooting Garlic Festival in California, the bar shooting in Dayton, Ohio and the Walmart shooting in El Paso, Texas, the Puyallup Police Department conducted an active shooter simulation training on the fairgrounds a week before the fair’s opening.
“We improve every year,” said deputy chief Dave McDonald. “We are never one to say this would never happen here, because we know it could happen anywhere or anytime.”
Police officers and private security guards will be roaming the fairgrounds, parking lots and the surrounding area as people enjoy food, music and rides.
Gearing up for Washington’s largest annual event takes months of preparation. The fair has emergency communication dedicated solely to 911 calls at the fairgrounds, including dispatchers, radio frequencies and police presence from from state, city and county law enforcement.
“It’s like a little city dedicated to the fair,” McDonald said. “It’s all hands on deck during the month of September.”
Puyallup officers will patrol and direct traffic outside of the fair, while 70 hired officers from the surrounding cities will respond to missing children, shoplifting, fights and accidents inside, McDonald said.
First responders have a plan in place for every day of the fair.
“The biggest things we do year after year as far as the active shooter scenes and serious incidents that have been happening all over for years is that we fight complacency,” McDonald said.
Because of its perimeter fence, the state fair is safer than many open air events, McDonald said, because designated entrances have an officer, all bags are checked and fairgoers are watched on security cameras.
More police vehicles will be parked around the fairgrounds for quick access to firearms or tools if needed, McDonald said.
If fairgoers see something suspicious, McDonald recommends they say something to a nearby officer.
He also asks that visitors leave firearms at home, they are not permitted on the fairgrounds.