Austin-Travis County EMS for its fifth year running has turned downtown Austin into its own mini-city during the SXSW musical festival, setting up special stations and protocols to respond to emergency situations in the festival’s most music-popping districts.
This year, between 3 p.m. Tuesday and 3 a.m. Saturday, medics responded to a total of 147 incidents in the areas between First and Seventh Streets, Lavaca Street and Interstate 35, East Fifth and Sixth streets and the Rainey Street district. They received the most calls — a total of 51 — on Friday night, which was St. Patrick’s Day and also the first weekend night of the music festival.
Most incidents were reported in the Sixth Street area, between Brazos Street and Interstate 35, data shows.
According to EMS Commander Mike Benavides, the downtown music districts were “geofenced,” meaning officials set up an electronic grid to automatically route emergency calls from those areas to a special dispatcher in the city’s Event Operations Center. Emergency responders also added resources, including special response units, motorcycles and two transport ambulances, which they stationed at a “casualty collection point” on Fifth Street and Congress Avenue.
“We create this to be a city within a city,” Benavides said.
It’s a way to keep the city’s day-to-day resources on hand for city residents while employing separate resources for festival-related incidents, he said.
Officials manually turn on the geofence between 3 p.m. and 3 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday, then manually shut it off early Sunday morning. It’s the fifth year EMS has used the special system.
“Obviously, every year we make improvements to it,” Benavides said.
Officials said they do not have a way to compare the medical incidences during SXSW to a regular Austin weekend, since the geofence area does not include places like Austin Resource Center for the Homeless and Salvation Army, which normally have a high call volume, Benavides said. Last year, there were 151 reported medical incidences during SXSW.
EMS incidents downtown during SXSW
Tuesday — 21
Wednesday — 19
Thursday — 26
Friday — 51
Saturday — 30
Source: Austin-Travis County EMS