Staging MacDill’s AirFest on active base is complex task – Tampa Tribune

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PlateSmart Highlighted in the Tampa Tribune for our efforts to help with security at AirFest 2016 by donating our software for the event. See the article here in the Tampa Tribune.

Putting together Tampa Bay AirFest 2016 is an important mission, said Maj. Ryan Garlow, the AirFest director, because it’s a chance for MacDill Air Force Base and its tenants to show the public how much they mean to the base.

It’s a mission not lost on the community.

This year, as for the last AirFest in 2014, the community was tasked with helping raise funds to put on the event.

Chase Stockon, chairman of the Bay Area Community AirFest Committee, said the community has kicked in more than $200,000, not including in-kind contributions.

Just a few days before the event, the enormity of AirFest has come into focus.

“As it has gotten closer, it has ramped up to a full-time job,” Garlow said.

That full-time job means turning a fully operating base that’s also home to U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command into a two-day festival.

There will be big aircraft, like the massive C-5 and C-17 cargo planes, and the most modern fighters, like the F-35 and F-22. Combined with local law enforcement, first responders and others, there will be more than 50 displays.

Imagine “a small carnival that Major Operations needs to get to move from location to location, including billions of dollars of aircraft and everything else to a place that typically doesn’t host things like this,” Garlow said. “It’s a major undertaking and all this coordination has to occur in a couple of days. We don’t have the luxury of taking a couple of weeks.”

Adding to the complexity is the fact that the base is still running operations.

The biggest concern is security, especially since the fight against the Islamic State is run from Centcom and a lower command, called Special Operations Command Central, also based at MacDill, Garlow said. And then there is Socom, which synchronizes the war on violent extremists.

“We are preparing to continue the mission and balancing bringing on 100,000 to 200,000 civilians on base, many of whom wouldn’t meet the normal day-to-day requirements to get on the base,” Garlow said.

“How to do that safely and securely, protecting the assets on base and the people on base with having a good experience and getting in and out in a safe and quick manner, is a balancing act.”

The base is taking “a lot” of security measures to check who is getting on the base, Garlow said. “We will have a massive security team, coordinated with multiple agencies, to help make sure we pull off a safe event.”

The base is working with a company called PlateSmart Technologies, which will have seven cameras on site that will feed into one central location for license plate capture to help identify potential problems.

But even though the base has been at an elevated security level since last year, officials don’t expect that to affect AirFest traffic.

If crowds bother you, there are other places to watch AirFest.

Boaters can come within 1,000 meters of the base.

But the best way to experience it, Garlow said, is to be there.

“There are all the static displays, and there are a lot of performers who will be flying very low right over the base, so anyone who is not here will miss that.”

haltman@tamapatrib.com

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Twitter: @haltman