New Orleans is making it easier for residents and visitors alike to find parades and other important information during Carnival season while also implementing new technology to help first responders find those who call 911.
As Mardi Gras approaches, city officials are focused on concerns big and small, ranging from planning for a possible major catastrophe to enforcing rules barring parade-goers from blocking off public areas for their own use.
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As officials rolled out their plans at a news conference Tuesday, the message was simple, as it has been in years past.
“At the end of the day, use common sense,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said. “We cannot do it alone; it takes all of us to do the right thing. As we’re prepared, we need our residents and visitors to be just as prepared.”
With peak parade season getting underway next week, the city is rolling out a new tool for residents and visitors to more easily track the festivities and find what they need. The city launched its official parade tracker on Routewise, at routewise.nola.gov.
While parade tracking apps have been a staple of the Carnival season for years, the city’s official site will come with some additional information. Users will be able to pull up information on nearby first aid and lost-child stations and, almost as crucially, locate the nearest public toilet from their phone.
The app will track not only the leading unit but also the final float of each parade.
This will also be the first time the city’s emergency dispatchers will be using a new technology that will allow them to find those who call in emergencies, Orleans Parish Communications District Executive Director Tyrell Morris said.
The new service, which was rolled out a few weeks ago, can allow 911 to pinpoint the location of a caller within meters, Morris said.
“The 18 million visitors who come to New Orleans every year do not know the landscape,” Morris said. “When you dial 911, the first question is, ‘What’s the location of your emergency?’ Most of our visitors do not know that. With this enhanced technology, it provides us with a much more accurate location much more quickly than it ever has in the history of 911.”
NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson warned those attending the festivities to follow the law.
“While we want our residents and visitors to have fun, we also want them to be responsible,” Ferguson said. “That means please do not drink and drive, please respect one another, please respect property.
“And, most importantly, please leave your guns at home,” he said.
In preparation for the parades, various agencies will participate in a drill in Armstrong Park on Friday that will simulate a “complex, coordinated attack” on a parade. The exercise, which will include 400 volunteers, will likely involve simulated gunfire and a heavy public safety presence near the park, city Homeland Security Director Collin Arnold said.
Officials have been planning the exercise — inspired in part by a crash that injured 32 when a truck plowed into a crowd watching Endymion in 2017 — for eight months, Arnold said.
“We need to test our response, our search capability, our triage capabilities and our ability to alert and inform the public and provide family reunification in case of an event that we obviously hope never happens,” he said.
New Orleans officers will be bolstered during the parade season by personnel from other agencies, including 170 state troopers who will begin patrolling the French Quarter, Central Business District and parade routes starting Feb. 22. And, for the first time, troopers will join the NOPD’s mounted patrols, which are used extensively during Carnival.
In addition to the public safety presence, between 340 and 500 temporary sanitation workers have been hired to clean up each parade night. The city will also be expanding the use of “gutter buddies,” sandbags aimed at keeping beads from making their way into the drainage system. First used on the St. Charles Avenue route last year, they will now be added to the Endymion route as well.
The city will also be taking a hard line against those who leave items on the parade routes to try to reserve preferred spots.
Workers will clear away items such as tarps and ladders left along the routes, Parks and Parkways Director Ann McDonald said.
"We will not store items," she said. "We will not tag items. Any items that we remove will be destroyed.”
McDonald also warned people against spray-painting on the neutral ground, another common tactic used to stake a claim to the public spaces.
And while Mardi Gras may be famous for its "anything goes" attitude, officials also issued their annual reminder of the list of relatively mild rules that should be followed. Among them:
- Don’t park on the parade route less than two hours before a parade rolls, or risk having your car towed.
- Keep ladders more than 6 feet from the curb and don’t link them together.
- Barbecues and other devices with open flames should be kept away from the curbs and from tents or other fabrics that could catch fire.