Fair officials are aware of the risks at large-scale events. Graber referenced the recent attempted bombing at the LaPorte County Fair, and farther afield the horrific Boston Marathon bombing.
“It’s just one of those random acts that makes you stop and think,” Graber said. You never think it could happen here, but you want to make sure it doesn’t happen here at the same time. There were precautions that we put into effect here earlier this year that kind of were behind the scenes here to make sure that we went the extra mile, to make sure this was a safe fair.”
Graber pointed out that boom cameras were set up to monitor the midway. He praised the police agencies throughout the county that volunteer efforts to provide fair security. Graber also said there was perhaps a bigger police presence at the 2013 fair than ever before.
“Not because we anticipated any problems, but it was just to make sure that everybody that walks through the gates knows that we’re not going to tolerate problems here,” he said.
Graber, a parent with children in 4-H, is confident about fair safety.
“I tell everybody: I let my kids run around here with their friends and stuff,” he said, “And I would never do that if I didn’t feel we had a very, very safe fair here.”
Another aspect of fair security is crowd control at the grandstand concerts. Fairgoers at Monday’s Florida Georgia Line show and Wednesday’s Hunter Hayes concert saw differing approaches, each owing to artist wishes.
“Every act is a little bit different,” Graber said. “...Very specifically, Florida Georgia Line did not want interference from the police up front there. They wanted the fan interaction (in front of the stage).”
As such, Florida Georgia line was met with a throng of enthusiastic fans. In contrast, Hunter Hayes preferred the fans kept back a bit more. Security officers complied.
“It’s really balancing both worlds, making sure we keep everybody safe here and also honor the wishes of the individual groups,” Graber said.
Music fans were among the thousands of people who went to the fair this year. And getting people in and out of the grounds is a perennial concern for fair officials. Graber said its the No. 1 complaint they hear.
Take Monday, the day of the Florida Georgia Line show. For one reporter (this one), the trip from Penguin Point on U.S. 33 to the fair lasted 40 minutes. Graber said he heard of a TV reporter stuck in traffic for two hours to get to the fairgrounds.
Graber said fair fundraising efforts are focused on improved traffic flow. In a prior interview, he said a second entrance to the fairgrounds — via a road connecting C.R.s 34 and 36 — is planned. Graber said the idea is to have the road in place by the 2015 fair, though it could happen sooner depending on the success of fundraising. Fair organizers are also hopeful of better flow on the grounds, too.