Waukesha parade: How to stay safe during holiday events

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In the wake of the Waukesha Christmas parade tragedy, experts are sharing ways that people can stay safe while attending public holiday events.

On Sunday, five people were killed and dozens of others were injured after Darrell Brooks allegedly drove a vehicle drove through a parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Brooks has been charged with multiple homicide counts. 

The incident in Waukesha is only the most recent occurrence of events where cars have driven through crowds. In June, a truck drove through the pride parade in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where one person was killed and others were injured. 

In Germany in February 2020, a driver plowed through a crowd of people at a carnival parade, Fox News reported at the time. The motivations of the drivers in each of the three incidents appear to be unclear.

With the holiday season now fully underway, public events have begun after the hiatus last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Families who are planning to attend holiday events this year should be aware of any potential dangers and “be ready to act if need be,” safety expert David Nance told Fox News.  

Police canvass the streets in downtown Waukesha, Wis., after a vehicle plowed into a Christmas parade hitting multiple people Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

“Keep in mind as we enter the season of joy, not everyone has the best intentions for you and yours,” Nance told Fox in an email.

Crowd safety expert Paul Wertheimer told Fox News that safety recommendations are situational and may not apply in every scenario.

“At the time of emergency, a better alternative may appear,” Wertheimer said. “Nevertheless, the more options a person has, the better prepared to respond quickly and confidently in an emergency, the better one’s chances of survival.”

Whether you’re attending a tree lighting, a parade or another gathering, here are some tips for keeping yourself and your family safe this holiday season. 

Know the layout and make an exit plan

“Know the general layout of the parade or event, in particular, all exits and the location of first aid or police and fire units,” Wertheimer said. “Familiarity with all exits is important because you don’t know where you will be if an incident occurs.”

Nance agreed, adding that people should also keep an eye out for any changes being made to the event. 

Both Wertheimer and Nance also said to have an agreed-upon meeting place should your group get separated. Wertheimer added that children should be told they can ask law enforcement or fire officials for help. 

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Nance added that it’s important to share the exit plan with your whole group. 

“Always have an exit plan with multiple escape routes in case an emergency should ensue,” Nance said.

He also suggested thinking through your escape plan before the event, which will “increase your chances of escaping safely during what could be a very stressful event.”

A police officer uses a flashlight while looking for evidence in downtown Waukesha, Wis., after an SUV sped through a barricade and slammed into a Christmas parade, injuring multiple people Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Nance also said people should avoid events with only one entrance and exit and they should avoid being fully surrounded by a crowd, which could make it difficult to quickly move to safety if necessary. 

Dress appropriately and keep your hands free

“Preparing for a parade or event means wearing the correct clothing,” Wertheimer said. 

That includes shoes with laces, or boots, with non-slip soles, Wertheimer said. Other shoes may fall off or cause you to slip while you try to escape a dangerous situation, according to Wertheimer.

He also said to make sure everyone in your group carries identification. For children who don’t typically have IDs, Wertheimer recommended that a wristband or paper with basic information – including the child’s first name and their parent or guardian’s phone number – be “discreetly placed on the child.”

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Wertheimer said the information could be taped to the child’s inner arm, or a bracelet that can be folded over so the child’s name and other personal information isn’t publicly displayed.

“Do not publicly display this information,” Wertheimer said, adding: “There may be pedophiles in the crowd.”

Wertheimer also recommended that people bring medications they or their family members might need for longer events.

Jennifer Cassetta, a self-defense expert who runs She Warrior Self Defense, told Fox News that people should travel light and keep their hands free while at holiday gatherings. 

“Use cross body bags or backpacks so your hands are free to protect yourself, someone else or to make a call,” Cassetta told Fox via email. “Carrying shopping bags with both hands decreases your chances of self-protection.”

Be aware of your surroundings

Cassetta also said people should keep their eyes and ears open during public events.

“Practice situational awareness,” Cassetta said. “Keep your heads up and phones away but close to your body, in case you need to call a loved one or 911 in an emergency.”

Toppled chairs are seen among holiday decorations in downtown Waukesha, Wis., after an SUV plowed into a Christmas parade injuring dozens of people Sunday, Nov 21. 2021. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Wertheimer said people should look out for exit routes and exit signs, street barricades and places to hide or take shelter, such as concrete or steel street furniture, buildings and walls. If homes or other buildings aren’t available, Wertheimer said to look for large tree trunks.

Nance said it could be helpful to position yourself in a place where there are barricades that prevent vehicle access. However, he noted that you shouldn’t put yourself in a place where you wouldn’t be able to leave the area immediately, if necessary. 

Wertheimer also said to look for where law enforcement, fire officials and ambulances are.

People should also pay attention to the weather, Wertheimer said, especially if there’s lightning, heavy rain, snow, extreme heat or high winds.

In addition, Cassetta said to keep an eye out specifically for red flags like, “anything that looks or feels out of place.”

That could include an unattended bag on the ground, someone approaching you quickly, a car driving out of control, or “a sound that send alarm bells through your head” such as a scream or screeching sound, Cassetta said.

Listen to your gut

If something does raise a red flag, Cassetta and Nance both said to act quickly. 

“Listen and act on your intuition,” Cassetta said. “If you don’t feel safe, even for an instant, leave the event… right away.”

Nance added: “If you sense someone or something seems odd or out of place, move away and notify event security or police.”

Act quickly

In the case that something does overtly happen, Nance said to move away immediately. 

“Ignore your curiosity regarding the dangerous situation and focus on moving yourself and your family immediately to a safe place,” he said.

Wertheimer said that when a dangerous situation does arise, following the crowd isn’t always the best thing to do. 

“Don’t necessarily follow the crowd,” he said. “There may be a quicker route to safety or places to hide along the way.” 

“Obey all law enforcement and fire instructions,”  Wertheimer added. “This is not the time to ask questions.”

In a situation where a car may be driving toward a crowd, Wertheimer said to recognize where the car is going and try to get out of the way. If a shooter is present, it may be more difficult to see where the shots are coming from.

In that case, Wertheimer said, “Seeking shelter near your location may be the best momentary option.”

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