Wayne County Sheriff’s Office beefs up fair security

Wayne County Sheriff’s Office beefs up fair security

Image Credit: Dan Starcher

One of the newest additions inside the gates of the Wayne County Fair isn’t a ride, although it closely resembles one.

The 30-foot-tall mobile observational Infrastructure Protection Unit — or Skywatch — made its fair-week debut in 2021, and Capt. Doug Hunter of the sheriff’s office was impressed with its performance.

“Last year I put in a request for the tower from the Ohio Department of Homeland Security,” Hunter said. “After seeing the benefit of having it, I immediately requested the unit for this year’s fair.”

Positioned near the grandstand, the tower gives volunteers a bird's-eye view of the midway. It essentially allows one person to see from the air what four or five people see from the ground.

“The unit provides an extra layer of security and awareness,” Hunter said. “With the unit in place, we can provide 24-hour surveillance and monitor and record what is happening.”

The observation deck is equipped with state-of-the-art video equipment that provides situational awareness in places where there are large crowds in attendance.

With its array of pan, tilt and zoom cameras, the unit provides a 360-degree view of the fair’s most vulnerable areas. It is climate controlled and is capable of being self-powered to ensure continuous operation.

The unit is one of three in Ohio that is available at no cost to local law enforcement. According to Hunter, the unit arrived at the fairgrounds on Sunday because it was scheduled for duty at the Ohio State Buckeyes game against Arkansas State on Saturday.

After a brief introduction to the inner workings of the tower, Eric Mast, a member of the Wayne Amateur Radio Club’s incident unit, was ready to begin his shift.

“We monitor the event for people that may be in trouble, children that may be lost and people having medical emergencies — things of that nature,” he said. “We aren’t looking to report individuals for things like clothing violations.”

Mast and other members of WARC that have had additional training apart from their amateur radio licensing exams take shifts monitoring the crowd.

“Through our training we understand how to communicate with law enforcement,” Mast said. “We know what they need to hear. If we see a situation that needs their attention, our radio is connected directly to dispatch inside their command center on the fairgrounds. Once we report it, we are out of the loop. They handle everything from that point.”

The unit was helpful last year when a volunteer in the tower witnessed a vendor fall to the ground in an apparent medical emergency.

"Since the tower operator’s radios connect directly to the sheriff’s command center, they immediately relayed that information to us," Hunter said. “Medical personnel were on the scene as quickly as possible. The operators are familiar with the landmarks and names of the roads at the fair. During this incident the vendor was in a place that was not easily seen from typical foot-traffic pathways.”

Because other methods of communication, like cell phone service, can become overwhelmed during peak times and rendered ineffective, Hunter plans to reserve the tower for use each year.

“As long as this is available to us, we will take advantage of it,” he said. “If we can utilize something that increases the safety of fairgoers, we will take advantage of that. WARC members will donate more than 60 hours of their time this week, and we are very thankful for them. With this unit's sight lines and all of the volunteers, we can see problems as they develop and intervene before they escalate into a crisis.”

Dan Starcher is a public communications specialist for the Wayne County government.