Helping Hangout happen: Gulf Shores, Baldwin County police, first responders collaborate to keep area safe during music festival

Lifestyle Editor
Posted 5/24/23

GULF SHORES — When you hear "Hangout Music Festival," what comes to mind? Does your mind rage over the worry of traffic congestion, the 35,000 tourists dancing on the beach and the loss of …

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Helping Hangout happen: Gulf Shores, Baldwin County police, first responders collaborate to keep area safe during music festival


GULF SHORES — When you hear "Hangout Music Festival," what comes to mind?

Does your mind rage over the worry of traffic congestion, the 35,000 tourists dancing on the beach and the loss of beach access, or do you wonder who is making it all happen?

Hangout Music Festival organizers and the City of Gulf Shores collaborate each year to ensure the 35,000 to 40,000 festival goers are safe, cared for and cleaned up after with the help of local first responders, employees and volunteers.

Baldwin County 9-1-1
For the second year, Baldwin County 9-1-1 set up an on-site call center staffed with seven dispatchers. On the second floor of the Gulf Shores Beach Safety Division's office at Gulf Place, dispatchers have a view of most of the festival grounds. Deputy director for Baldwin County 9-1-1 Dan Wright and his team work 16-hour days throughout the three-day festival.

Wright said advances in technology gave them the ability to set up on-site in 2022 for the first time. He said being on location has advantages.

"This event is so sight specific, and there are so many little intricacies of all the different areas and stages. In years past, a call would be placed from here and it would be routed to our main dispatch center in Robertsdale," Wright explained. "They would process the call and then contact this group in Gulf Shores to dispatch it."

The state 9-1-1 phone system allows Wright to set up a geofence around the festival grounds. Any wireless call placed within the area is then directed to the on-site dispatch. If callers have their location services enabled, their phone will send GPS coordinates for their location. Dispatchers are then able to use the location to direct first responders to those in need of assistance faster.
The on-site call center also prevents an influx of additional 9-1-1 calls to the dispatch center in Robertsdale.

"We have enough staffing that we are still fully staffed at the 9-1-1 center in Robertsdale. It helps with us being on site to relieve the workload from them," Wright said. "If nothing else, the rest of the county, I hesitate to say, is better covered than a normal day. There is no deficiency in 9-1-1 coverage because of what we are doing here."

On the first day of the Hangout this year, which was Friday, they received just over 130 calls total, approximately 70 9-1-1 calls and around 60 fire department responses.

Public health
During a three-day outdoor event with a large number of people, there are bound to be injuries and medical emergencies.

Gulf Shores Fire and Rescue oversee first aid tents placed throughout the festival grounds that are staffed with firefighters and nursing students. There is also an on-site hospital staffed with a doctor, nurses and interns who can handle most festival medical emergencies. Anyone with a serious injury or illness is transported to South Baldwin Regional Medical Center.

"It is convenient and vital to the safety of the event but also keeps from flooding the local hospitals with patients from the festival," said Grant Brown, Gulf Shores public information officer. "On Day 1 of the festival, 57 people went to the on-site hospital, and of those, three were transported to the emergency room."

Public safety
Gulf Shores Police Department oversees the policing of the festival by partnering with other Baldwin County police departments and state and federal agencies.

"If we can't get help from off-duty Foley police, off-duty sheriffs and people that are willing to come and give up their days to come to this event, we can't do this," Brown said. "We cannot leave the rest of our city unprotected by both police and fire. We only have 52 sworn police officers."

Gulf Coast Media staff observed police officers from Foley, Bay Minette and Baldwin County Sheriff's Office throughout the festival grounds along with the 600 security officers hired by the festival organizers.

Then there are the agencies that remained out of sight, like the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Alabama National Guard and Homeland Security.

Gulf Shores lifeguards are tasked with keeping festival goers safe while enjoying the Gulf of Mexico and on-site pools.

"We have about 30 guards working; 15 in the festival and 15 outside the festival in our normal operations on the beach for this time of year," said Joethan Phillips, Beach Safety Chief. "The fire department stays covered as well. We have a crew that comes in and does 24 hours on and 24 hours off so two shifts continue to cover every station."

Locals support local businesses
Many Gulf Shores and Baldwin County locals avoid the beach area during the festival and concerns over heavy traffic, lack of beach access and crowds.

"One of the good things for locals is if you don't want to participate in the festival, which is just these two- or three-block regions down here, the restaurants in town you are not competing with other vacationers," Brown said. "Now is a great time to go to LuLu's and not have a three-hour wait."

Hotels, condos and houses fill up with festival goers who have plans to spend their days at the festival. Many walk if they are close or use the shuttle system.

Gulf Shores has installed traffic signal controls throughout the city that can be controlled to alleviate traffic congestion. From Fairhope, the drive to the festival Friday at 10 a.m. and Saturday at 12:30 p.m. was 45 minutes. Leaving Gulf Shores at 11 p.m. when the festival ended also took 45 minutes. The traffic observed was lighter than on some summer days.

Beach access is also an issue brought up by locals who have limited access to Gulf Place Public Beach for most of May each year due to the festival and college beach volleyball tournament, but all other accesses are available throughout that time.

Hangout Music Festival has ended and the removal has begun. Locals can look forward to the return of Gulf Place access for Memorial Day Weekend.