Electric Zoo to Clamp Down on Drugs This Year

Wall Street Journal – by Yoni Bashan

High above the grassy parkland on Randall’s Island—site of this weekend’s Electric Zoo music festival—hangs a robotic camera so powerful it can read text on a note pad 80 feet below.

Security officials will monitor the video feed from the camera and 11 more like it from a command center nearby, part of a new strategy during the three-day music fair to keep drugs off the island.  

The Electric Zoo’s return this year marks an attempt to come back from tragedy. Last year, two young people died of drug-related causes at the event, and organizers had to shut it down early. The city approved the permit for this year’s event only after months of negotiations over improved safety protocols, especially stronger efforts to keep drugs out. The festival begins today and ends Sunday.

For the first time, six drug-sniffing dogs will be used amid the lines of people entering. Once again, attendees will undergo airport-style searches as they line up. Prohibited items will include open cigarette packets, glow sticks and deodorant.

Medical personnel will be posted at the entrance. They will watch for slurred speech, dilated pupils and any unusual behavior, hoping to keep out anyone who is under the influence of drugs.

“We have to know that we have done everything within our power to keep the event as safe as possible,” said Mike Bindra, the promoter who runs Electric Zoo with his wife Laura de Palma. He said attendance could suffer as a result of the stringent, antidrug policy.

A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio has said the city Parks Department had worked closely with safety, law enforcement and medical professionals to “review last year’s Electric Zoo event and create the safest experience possible this year.” The spokesman also said the city had conducted an extensive interagency review to “update Electric Zoo’s health and safety measures.”

The new security regimen for the festival has extended to the people behind the scenes. Some staff, trucks and equipment underwent daily screenings as they entered the site to intercept drugs being smuggled into the venue ahead of the festival. Officials said two workers were cautioned when discovered with what were described as negligible amounts of contraband that was seemingly for personal use.

Festival organizers are also considering the use of so-called drug amnesty bins. The bins would allow people to safely jettison contraband to avoid arrest.

Much of the preparation for the festival has been for the strong possibility that some people will find a way to get drugs, use them and perhaps need medical assistance.

In the main medical tent, dozens of cots have been set up with IV units for people to rehydrate and replenish lost electrolytes—needed by music lovers who dance for hours in the sun. Ice baths also will be available for those who show signs of overheating, said Andrew Bazos, medical and safety director overseeing the event.

Mr. Bindra said another less obvious strategy to “keep people healthy” was the decision to push back the festival’s start time from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., minimizing their exposure to the sun.

Forecasters expect temperatures to reach 79 degrees on Friday an 88 on Sunday.

The event’s ranks of roaming security officers and teams of paramedics will be joined by 50 to 75 pre-med, nursing and emergency medical technician students who will be designated “zookeepers.” They will stand ready to help anyone showing signs of trouble, officials said.

“A uniformed EMT presents an authority figure which may be off putting to some people,” Dr. Bazos said. “But a t-shirted zookeeper is a peer, it’s a buddy out there … looking after you.”

Security guards with dogs on the Electric Zoo festival grounds John Taggart for The Wall Street Journal

If help is needed, zookeepers can activate a smartphone app to alert the command center to their coordinates on the island. A formal emergency response from medical teams would follow, Dr. Bazos said.

Organizers have added options to the customary array of water stations and cool-down zones: a supercharged water-filling bank that can fill empty bottles in three seconds; and a cylindrical, walk-in refrigerated tunnel, powered by two industrial air-conditioners.

Back at the entrance, attendees will need to view a two-minute Public Service Announcement before they activate their entry bracelets, which are dependent on a code revealed at the end of the video. The film depicts a man on the dance floor who suffers a dramatic adverse reaction after ingesting a white powder.

“We’re trying to help people make smart decisions,” said Mr. Bazos of the delayed starting time. “We’re almost forcing them to make smart decisions.”

Write to Yoni Bashan at Yoni.Bashan@wsj.com


One thought on “Electric Zoo to Clamp Down on Drugs This Year

  1. This sounds like a real fun place to be if you like cops and undercover thugs so thick you could walk on them ,all looking for something to bust you for! Those dogs in the picture are not companion dogs either,the ones with 4 feet I’m talking about.

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