Rally viewed as emergency response staging rehearsal

By Ellen Miller-Goins<br />Staff writer

RED RIVER — Every year for the past 23 years up to 20,000 motorcyclists roar into town for the Red River Rally. The town begins planning for this huge event the day the last bike leaves town.

“(Planning) is pretty much year-’round,” said Georgiana Rael, town clerk and finance director, “but we really start focusing on it in January. There’s a lot of things that have to take place for this event. We handle this as an Incident Command System.”

According to the United States Federal Highway Administration, an Incident Command System (ICS) is “a systematic tool used for the command, control, and coordination of emergency response.” Among other things, an ICS establishes a hierarchy from among multiple agencies that do not normally work together. Rael said the ICS is used for Memorial Day but it could also be used for fire evacuations or other emergency situations.

“This is like our annual test,” Rael said. “It’s all the departments working together: public works, conference center, fire and EMS department volunteers and staff. In the event something does happen, they’re ready to respond.”

Every year the town spend about $60,000: $36,500 for additional police, fire and EMS officers from outside communities; $11,000 for additional police and EMS equipment; $7,000 for supplies that include porta-potties, fuel and signage; $3,500  for food, drinks and other sustenance for all staff and volunteers. When in-kind donations like lodging to house out-of-town staff and volunteer hours are tallied, total cost for the event bumps up to about $85,000.

“This is not a money-maker for the town,” Rael said, adding the town’s role is to support the event for all the business in town that do profit from the influx of bikers every year.

Last year the town made $23,750 from vendors’ fees and $61,496 in gross receipts taxes. From 2009 to 2013, gross receipts taxes averaged $64,421. Vendors pay $600 to $1,600 to rent space inside the conference center or Brandenburg Park ($400 of that goes to the town). All vendors pay an additional $50 for trash removal. Some also pay $25 to park an RV in the town parking lot.

Managing all the vendors is also a huge undertaking and, at press time, Holly Snowden, conference center coordinator, was lugging around a thick binder with vendor permit applications, making sure every returning vendor from last year had a space — usually the same space they rent year after year. “All of our big vendors are the same,” Snowden said. “Some smaller companies are not returning but we have eight new vendors.”

Snowden coordinates with Beth Hodges, assistant clerk, to make sure all vendors are compliant with the state Taxation and Revenue Department. That department also sends a compliance agent to town to assure compliance and even take payments. “All of our vendors have to be compliant or they are shut down,” Hodges said.

Finally, in addition to all the details that go into making sure the event goes off with few hitches (despite a prohibition against using tent stakes in the park, for example, irrigation lines still get broken nearly year),  the town does its best to anticipate every circumstance that might hamper weekend fun.

“If we could control the weather that would be nice,” Rael said. “We get wind, rain, sleet snow. There’s always something. If it’s too nice outside, then the Conference Center vendors are unhappy because people don’t go inside to shop. It’s impossible to make everyone happy.”