As the recent bombings at the Boston Marathon showed, concerns about public safety at well-known and heavily attended events have taken on greater urgency, and that’s no different in Cannon Beach.
With the promise of thousands of people pouring into Cannon Beach for events like Sandcastle Day weekend and the Fourth of July holiday, the Cannon Beach Police Department and Cannon Beach Fire and Rescue are preparing to keep the public safe.
Police Chief Jason Schermerhorn is no stranger to large crowds descending on the North Coast. Before taking his current position in Cannon Beach, he served as a lieutenant with the Seaside Police Department. There, he saw the good and the bad of many people in one place over a short period, such as the annual Hood to Coast relay.
“Hood to Coast was always a huge influx of people over a short period, similar to what we see on Sandcastle Day,” he said. “But people in general come to have fun, not cause trouble.”
Those experiences gave Schermerhorn an understanding of what it takes to maintain public safety during a spike in coastal populations.
On the surface, that seems a daunting task when estimates of people being in town for Sandcastle Day alone can be near 10,000.
“We’ll have everybody in our department on duty,” he said. “We will also call for assistance from other agencies to participate and offer overtime. That includes calling on officers from the sheriff’s department, Oregon State Police, and from the Seaside and Gearhart (police) departments.”
His staff will actively monitor the office’s radio during the day and evening. This will ensure rapid communication and response time to any trouble, he said.
Schermerhorn describes the Sandcastle and Fourth of July crowd sizes as “very different” from one another, with each providing their own challenges.
“The Fourth of July crowd is generally here most of the day and late into the evening and is spread out over town,” he said. “Sandcastle weekend crowds are biggest early in the day and afternoon with very dense numbers in one area.”
While parking and traffic concerns are normally the biggest issue facing Schermerhorn’s officers during these events, he calls the bombing in Boston an “eye-opener.”
Schermerhorn will keep on-duty officers highly visible to deter a similar tragedy in Cannon Beach.
“We want our people to be seen by the public during any big gathering,” he said. “That means having police officers, information officers, lifeguards and fire and rescue personnel out where people can easily spot them and make contact with them.”
All of the department’s officers have received training in crowd control through the Clatsop County Sheriff’s Department.
Cannon Beach officers were slated to participate in bomb training offered by the Oregon State Police, and although the class was cancelled, Schermerhorn intends to have his officers involved when it is rescheduled.
This is largely due to the discovery of potentially harmful devices found in Cannon Beach last year. Two were found on Spruce Street near Madison Park on July 3 and on Spruce Street near City Park last September.
In both instances, the Oregon State Police Bomb Squad from Salem removed the devices after being called in by the Cannon Beach Police Department.
“Standard procedure in those scenarios is to make sure the area is clear of people,” Schermerhorn said. “We called the bomb squad and gave them as much detailed information on the devices as we could and any details we saw. From there, they let us know how big of a radius to clear based on what we’ve told them.”
Schermerhorn described the devices as being “homemade from plastic pop bottles and containing a harmful chemical.” They were a reminder of the ease with which seemingly normal items can be overlooked in crowded areas.
However, Schermerhorn believes he has one vital asset that helps identify these problems: the community itself.
“Cannon Beach has citizens who care about being involved,” he said. “They ask questions and keep an eye on their surroundings.”
Schermerhorn wants community members and visitors alike to call the police department when anything suspicious occurs, no matter the time of day or how small the matter may seem.
“We can’t be everywhere at once, and we really rely on those extra sets of eyes and ears,” he said. “People often don’t want to bother the police department and feel embarrassed about calling. But we need everyone to work together and keep aware of anything that looks out of place.”
While he calls on people to keep their eyes open, Schermerhorn wants everyone to remember they came to Cannon Beach to have fun.
Cannon Beach Fire and Rescue also will be available to deter problems and provide emergency assistance.
“Sandcastle Day is a big crowd day, and we will have two crews available,” said Matt Gardner, training officer and fire marshall with the fire department. “One will be on or near the beach during the event, and one will be on standby to respond to any emergency.”
Each crew will have two to four personnel.
Gardner agreed with Schermerhorn that the Boston Marathon bombings were a reminder to keep on top of regular training and to stay vigilant.
“More than anything it was an eye-opener,” Gardner said. “Cannon Beach Fire and Rescue trains all week long and during the weekends so we can keep our skills sharp and be ready, whether it’s Fourth of July or the middle of winter.”
Gardner participated in a basic bomb training class held by Oregon State Police two years ago and took away a new appreciation of the fire department’s role in such situations.
“It raised my awareness about how those situations work: identifying a device, notifying the proper experts and handling crowds,” he said. “The most important role of the fire department is creating a perimeter to keep people away.”
Gardner echoes Schermerhorn’s sentiment that vigilant citizens are the number one weapons in fighting potential danger.
“The police department and the fire department each have roles they are trained for,” he said. “We rely on people seeing something that is out of place and letting us know so we can deal with it.”
The Cannon Beach Police Department can be reached at (503) 436-2811. Cannon Beach Fire and Rescue can be reached at (503) 436-2949.
This story originally appeared in Cannon Beach Gazette.