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State Fair of Texas security team went through SWAT exercises to prepare for fair

"In a matter of minutes, we were able to confirm that we didn't have a tragic incident," director of security Jeff Cotner said of Friday's false shooting scare.

DALLAS — The State Fair of Texas' security director promises: His team has gone through extensive training in order to be prepared for all sorts of threats at the fairgrounds — whether, it turns out, they even turn out to be true.

On Friday night, the State of Fair of Texas closed its operations an hour earlier than usual, due to fairgoers trying to "create chaos" and crowds fearing that shots had been fired on the fairgrounds, officials say.

Jeff Cotney is the director of security for the State Fair of Texas, and a retired deputy chief of the Dallas Police Department.

"It caused fear amongst a lot of great people that were here to enjoy the fair," Cotney said of Friday's incident.

Dallas Police said officers responded to Fair Park after a large crowd came running out of the gate at around 8:50 p.m. saying there was an active shooting inside.

Cotney said it didn't take his team long to figure out that the situation wasn't a legitimate threat, that there was no active shooter and that no one had been injured.

"Just in a matter of minutes, we were able to confirm that we didn't have a tragic incident," Cotney said. "In fact, we were able to look at it by camera within minutes. We felt very good about what we had. But, still, we wanted to take some action just out of an abundance of caution."

Credit: Jay Wallis
Jeff Cotner, who is a retired deputy chief of the Dallas Police Department, is now the director of security for the State Fair of Texas.

For safety reasons, the fair said, it can't say how many officers or safety personnel are on the fairgrounds at any given time. However, Cotner said his safety team starts preparing for the fair every year in February, at which point it starts building out its emergency procedures and guidelines book.

"We'll start with some phone calls," Cotner said. "We'll set up a meeting. For that period right up before the fair, we work on that plan and we refine that plan."

RELATED: REWIND: Safety inspections make for smooth rides at the State Fair

Part of the plan includes what Cotner calls "tabletop scenarios." This is when all safety and security units for the fair gather. The group that participates in this planning includes members from the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department, the Dallas Police Department and the American Medical Response. The goal, Cotner said, is to come up with solutions for a wide variety of possibilities that may arise. 

"We're all in the room and we have tabletop scenarios," Cotner said. "So, that team in front of us is given a scenario, and are then given an opportunity to figure out how we will react and respond to that."

Cotner said this year, the fair added an additional step to their security planning. The Dallas Police Department brought a SWAT team with them to put Cotner's security team through trainings for situations just like what people thought was happening Friday night.

"When you actually practice it, you get a lot of meaningful takeaways, and we were able to do it this year," Cotner said. "It's a big team effort. We cover all aspects of our operations. We think about it all year long. We integrate those together."

Here is an outline of some more of the fair’s safety and security measures:

  • During the off-season, the fair’s management team undergoes numerous training and tabletop exercises in order to prepare for a multitude of potential incidents.
  • The State Fair partners with the Dallas Police Department for safety and security planning related to the Fair.
  • As fairgoers enter and walk through the fairgrounds, people will come in contact with many Dallas, Dallas ISD, and DART police officers who are here to ensure the safety of fairgoers, vendors, and staff.
  • On days expected to have a larger attendance, the fair will also bring in law enforcement officers from other agencies to assist with the safety plan.
  • The State Fair has two First Aid locations on the fairgrounds; one located at the Coliseum, and one located at 1st Avenue adjacent to the Children’s Aquarium. If an emergency exists, a First Aid Unit will be dispatched to any location within the fairgrounds.
  • The State Fair also contracts with private security, who are positioned at the admission gates and throughout the fairgrounds.
  • To enter the fair, all guests must walk through metal detectors and every bag or cooler is screened.
  • The fair invested in and installed a new ALERTUS mass notification system to warn people throughout the fairgrounds of inclement weather or safety issues.

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