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UMass, Amherst prep to prevent Blarney Blowout problems

  • UMass Amherst junior Nate Silver talks about Blarney Blowout March 4, 2017 at Puffton Village in Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Thursday, March 01, 2018

AMHERST — Entering the University of Massachusetts campus this week, students, employees and visitors are greeted with large electronic signs reminding them that parking will be restricted this weekend.

The billboards are a visible reminder to the public that this Saturday, for the past decade or so, has been marked on the calendar by UMass students as a day for pre-St. Patrick’s Day celebrations called Blarney Blowout, which by 2014 climaxed with destructive behavior off campus, 55 arrests and a heavy police response that included use of pepper spray.

UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said Tuesday that the university will continue using “comprehensive plans” that have been successful to keep the peace and prevent flare-ups in the final weekend before spring break, including extensive outreach to the community, such as direct messaging to students and working with property managers. Last year there were no arrests and just one person transported by ambulance to a hospital for alcohol consumption.

Originally a promotion begun by a downtown bar in 1999, Blarney Blowout continued to grow in popularity each year, with numerous college students, dressed in green, lining downtown streets for the 11 a.m. bar openings.

In 2012, though, drunken behavior, including vomiting and urinating and inappropriate accosting of shoppers and diners, prompted a police crackdown, and in 2013 the troublesome aspects of the event migrated to an open field at Townehouse Apartments in North Amherst, where more than 2,000 people attended a large party.

The 2014 event prompted UMass to hire former Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis to issue a report for strategies that would bring the event to an end, and have used these techniques for other events, such as the Super Bowl.

But this year’s Super Bowl led to several arrests after the New England Patriots lost.

“I think what happened on the night of the Super Bowl is a reminder for us to be vigilant about all of our preparations,” Blaguszewski said.

Parking on campus will not be allowed beginning Friday at 5 p.m. and extending to Sunday at 5 p.m., except for those with permits, passes and attending various events on campus.

Another step is prohibiting any nonstudents from entering dormitories. Beginning Thursday at 8 p.m. and continuing through Sunday at 11 p.m., each resident will be allowed to sign in a total of four UMass students as guests, and only UMass students, faculty and staff will be allowed in UMass residence halls.

Blaguszewski said UMass continues to program alternative events that again include a concert, dubbed Mullins Live! Free and open only to UMass students, the scheduled performers include rappers 21 Savage, Goldlink and Big Sean. Blagsuzewski said 4,500 tickets have already been distributed.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said the same kind of preparation includes outreach to students who live in town and a collaborative approach.

“The town and university work closely together on this,” Bockelman said.

Off campus, between 150 and 200 police officers from police departments throughout the region, as well as two K-9 units, will be stationed at strategic places, Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone said.

The chief said his department, which will be fully staffed, has worked closely with these agencies on a game plan.

“We’re following the same blueprint we have in years past that has been successful,” Livingstone said.

Many of the officers, with detail costs covered entirely by UMass, will be positioned in areas where off-campus incidents have occurred, including North Amherst at Townehouse Apartments and Hobart Lane, next to the campus on Phillips and Fearing streets, and on lower Main Street.

Livingstone said most of the officers have been in town in early March the past three years, so they know the drill is to engage with students, with enforcement less a priority. He said students should feel welcome to have gatherings to celebrate the season, and encourages them to register parties through the Party Smart program.

Emergency operations centers will be located at both Amherst and UMass police stations.

Livingstone said he appreciates that bar owners are also committed to not reviving the custom.

“I feel really confident about where we are,” Livingstone said.

Along with reimbursement for police details and hiring the acts for the concert, Blaguszewski said expenses are considerable for UMass.

“It’s a substantial investment, but an important investment,” Blaguszewski said.

Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said his department will have 13 firefighters on the daytime shift, as well as two mutual aid ambulances. A triage unit will be at the concert and two paramedics will be embedded with police.

Nelson said he always hopes for the best and that the extensive planning should mean a successful day.

“There’s an old saying that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” Nelson said.

One thing out of his control is the weather, and Nelson said the early outlook is that Saturday could be a cold and gray day, which is better than warm and sunny conditions from the perspective of firefighters and police officers.

“That forecast could be helpful to dampen the enthusiasm,” Nelson said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.