From storms to stolen balloons: Balloon Fiesta adopts new safety protocols

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Last year, during the 50th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, severe weather led to thousands of people having to evacuate Balloon Fiesta Park and miss out on the majority of the hot air balloon glow.

“Last year we had some of the most unusual weather conditions that Balloon Fiesta has ever seen, and I’ve been coming here since 1990,” said Sam Parks, Balloon Fiesta executive director. “We were really tested last year on how we could manage a thunderstorm that essentially developed on top of us.”

City officials say they are going into this year’s event with a new plan.

“This year we have a brand new communications plan that we are instituting with all of our government agencies,” Parks said.

While no one can control the weather, city officials can control what they do in case things take a turn. They have a five-stage weather plan: information, advisory, watch, warning, and shelter-in-place.

“Once we hit the warning phase, that is where you will see the changes in the park,” Parks said. “That’s when you will see the buses driven into the park and staged if we need to use them for a shelter area, that’s where you will see texts going out, tents getting secured, all in preparation for a storm that is inbound.”

Balloon Fiesta officials are also planning for the worst, like last year when Joelly the Baby Bee was stolen. The Albuquerque Police Department wants to get ahead to prevent any balloons from going missing.

APD Chief Harold Medina says they are issuing GPS trackers to balloonists so they can track their ballons in case something happens.