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PERSPECTIVE: 3 Takeaways from Big Philly Events That Made Super Bowl Parade Soar

Planning and being prepared for everything from the plausible to the improbable is a standard of emergency management and public safety.

If you had asked Philadelphia Eagles fans at the 2017 NFL Draft, coincidentally held in Philadelphia last April, if their city would host a Super Bowl parade at the end of the season, they would have responded with a mix of Philly wit, laughter, and skepticism.

But nine months later, the Eagles won the Super Bowl. A championship celebration followed. The Lombardi Trophy, standing tall at 22 inches in front of millions, led a four-hour parade along five-and-a-half miles of Philadelphia streets. The trophy’s journey ended on the same Benjamin Franklin Parkway where only months prior it was posing for photo ops with fans at the NFL Draft.

City planners had no prior Super Bowl Parade plan to go on: this was the city’s first Super Bowl win. But as the game clock hit 0:00 and green confetti fell, the Feb. 8 parade became an actuality. With only three days of planning, city partners quickly mobilized to sketch out their strategy for the largest parade in the city’s history.

With several recent, successful large-scale events behind it, Philadelphia drew on numerous best practices, operational plans, and experiences to guide the intense, compressed planning effort.

Building Blocks of Planning Before Super Bowl Time

2015 World Meeting of Families with Pope Francis

In 2015 Philadelphia hosted the World Meeting of Families with Pope Francis. The National Special Security Event (NSSE) featured an outdoor Catholic Mass on the Parkway, and a lengthy procession of the Pope and various dignitaries. Partners from all levels of government, and the private and nonprofit sectors, convened for many months leading up to this one-day event.

Numerous road closures, ultra-secure perimeters, impact on businesses and residents, and complex transportation and logistical challenges dominated the planning process. The magnitude and importance both to the city and public was felt throughout the region.

2016 Democratic National Convention

Pope Francis’ visit was quickly followed by the 2016 Democratic National Convention (DNC), which still holds the record for the city’s longest activation of its Emergency Operations Center. Also a National Special Security Event (NSSE), the DNC took place at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia. However, dignitary movements along with numerous events, protests, and gatherings popped up throughout the city over two weeks, a large geographical area for emergency planners to manage.

The logistics of this event led the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) to create a geographic information system (GIS) platform to present a real-time picture of public safety response. Since the DNC, use of GIS has evolved and has become an everyday tool of emergency management.

Severe weather, including heat, impacted activity outside the Wells Fargo Center as late July thunderstorms brought periods of heavy rain, high wind, and lightning. A pre-established communications plan incorporating social media, text-message notifications, and video-screen messaging were put into play on several occasions to evacuate large crowds from open, outdoor locations.

Communications with the public and media proved demanding, and city planners developed a communications plan to coordinate messaging through the event. For the first time, video was produced by OEM and published on social and digital media as a means for information and public outreach.

2017 NFL Draft

The draft proved to be a record-breaking success for Philadelphia and the National Football League. According to the NFL, 250,000 people attended the three-day event, breaking an NFL Draft attendance record. Just like the 2016 DNC, weather and health concerns played a role in planning as unseasonably warm weather with highs in the mid-80s greeted fans for several days. Creating an emergency communications plan for attendees was also expanded upon during the draft.

All means of communication were taken into consideration: jumbotrons, public address systems, social media, event apps, and mass-notification platforms like ReadyPhiladelphia. The Office of Emergency Management produced videos highlighting useful public safety information that was published on social and digital media as well as on the jumbotrons at the draft.

Annual Events

In addition to these events, large-scale, recurring events, such as Jay Z’s “Made in America” festival, the weeklong Independence Day celebration “Welcome America,” the annual Army-Navy game, and various marathons have also contributed to the development and refinement of the city’s special-event plans.

Three Takeaways That Helped Eagles Parade Planning

The Eagles parade plan was a culmination of best practices learned from previous special events along with already established infrastructure and relationships with partner agencies. It was a matter of thoughtful examination of the event route and celebration program along with factoring in a variable: the number of passionate Eagles fans who would attend.

Keep public transportation moving

The Philadelphia Phillies’ World Series parade in 2008 provided takeaways on mass-transit planning. Millions of people descended on Center City Oct. 31. As crowds left, public transit and roadways were overwhelmed in certain locations. This was considered during the papal visit and built upon for the Super Bowl parade.

Philadelphia’s mass-transit system, SEPTA, knew what volume it could handle on rail lines while still providing service. A defined quantity of one-day passes were sold for suburban rail lines for both Pope Francis’ visit and the Super Bowl parade. The Market-Frankford elevated train was put on a special schedule to shuttle passengers as quickly and safely as possible.

Streamline authoritative communications

A takeaway from Pope Francis’ visit was the importance of relaying information developed inside stakeholder meetings to the public in a positive tone. This allows people to know their role in public safety plans, sets realistic expectations, and helps prepare them for their experience. Messaging also helps government agencies realize and address concerns that people have prior to the event.

Something else that emergency planners learned from Pope Francis’ visit: the critical need for a good communications system to be utilized by public safety agencies. This provides one-voice public messaging through media outlets and social media accounts that is truly uniform in order to avoid confusing and contradictory messages.

A best practice that emerged from DNC included creating a crisis communications and social media group within city government that streamlined messaging, authorized spokespersons, and addressed both news media and social media messaging. The communications group model is scalable and used for everyday events.

Press conferences held prior to the parade along with social media messaging let people know about adjustments made to the city’s mass transit system to handle anticipated crowds, closures to city streets, expected traffic delays on city roads, and the need for parade attendees to wear comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing for all the walking and standing that they would experience.

Get connected with the public

City social and digital media platforms are viewed as newsrooms to keep people informed.

A campaign to keep fans apprised of Eagles-related news from the city was launched during the playoffs. This built followers on ReadyPhiladelphia and city social media accounts and helped to further disseminate details released by the city. The Office of Emergency Management’s Twitter account, @PhilaOEM, added 2,500 followers during the Super Bowl itself.

ReadyPhiladelphia, an Everbridge product, has a community engagement text-to-enroll feature which makes signing up for alerts quick and easy. The keyword “ReadyEagles” was decided upon to add to the appeal. Due to an established campaign prior to the Super Bowl, messaging quickly transitioned that set ReadyEagles as the place to get very important parade details and public safety information. Nearly 100,000 subscribers signed up for ReadyEagles text messages in the days leading up to the parade.

ReadyEagles was not only used for public safety information, but kept parade-goers informed of the movement of the team from their departure from Lincoln Financial Field all the way to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This was useful to those who waited hours along long stretches of the route, so they were aware of when they may be able to catch a glimpse of the Lombardi Trophy. Pertinent information was also sent out pertaining to mass-transit updates, road re-openings, and post event clean-up.

Through social media, parade-goers thanked city departments and partners who helped keep them informed and safe in what they deemed a successful event, one that the Office of Emergency Management looks to build on for the future.

Jeffrey D. Kolakowski
Jeffrey D. Kolakowski
Jeffrey Kolakowski is Public Information Program Manager for the City of Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management. Prior to joining OEM, Jeff worked in journalism as a television news-manager where he earned four Edward R. Murrow awards and multiple Emmy nominations. He covered 9-11, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 2000 Republican National Convention, Hurricane Sandy along with every other bit of news over his 17-year career. Jeff has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in speech communications with an option in broadcast journalism from Millersville University and resides in the city of his birth, Philadelphia.

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