County prepares for music fest

OKEECHOBEE — Note to Okeechobee County residents: Consider doing your grocery shopping early this week, and fill your gas tanks. By Thursday, expect longer lines at local stores and at the gas pumps.

The third Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival is set for March 1-4 at Sunshine Grove in northeastern Okeechobee. The event will feature over 80 musical performances, art installations created by artists from around the world, and health and wellness workshops.

Around 40,000 people are expected to travel to Okeechobee County for the weekend, doubling the county’s population.

Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival fans will pour into Okeechobee County on Thursday in preparation for the weekend’s camping festival. At the 2017 festival, many fans wore creative and colorful costumes. Photo by Katrina Elsken.

With OMF 2018 less than a week away, preparations seem to be running smoothly.

Mitch Smeykal at the Okeechobee Emergency Operation Center (EOC) said that on Thursday, March 1, the EOC will move to partial activation level. “Due to the size and the length of the event, we have emergency management partners arriving from several parts of the state to lend assistance,” he explained.

Participating personnel and equipment are from the following agencies:
• National Weather Service Office, Melbourne;
• Florida Division of Emergency Management; and
• Regional Domestic Security Task Force, Regions 4 and 6 Incident Management Team.

“Residents are reminded to do their weekly shopping early in the week of Feb. 26 due to the influx of festival attendees seeking food and other supplies,” Mr. Smeykal stated. “Expect extra traffic on the roads especially on Thursday, March 1, and Monday, March 5, as festival attendees are arriving and leaving the festival and the county.

“This is not the first time this event has been held in Okeechobee County and, as in previous years, we want to be prepared for any issues which may arise during the festival,” said Mr. Smeykal.

The EOC will be staffed for 12-hour shifts each day. Several of the partner agencies will also stay at the EOC for the length of their deployment.

“These types of cross-county partnerships are nothing new within the emergency management community. There are a limited number of EM personnel within Florida, and when one of us needs assistance the others come to help,” he explained.

County emergency services will be fully staffed to take care of county residents. The music festival will pay for its own on-site security and emergency services. On Feb. 22, the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners approved two certificates of public convenience and necessity with Martin County Fire/Rescue and the St. Lucie County Fire District to provide advanced and basic life support and patient transportation services for the music festival. The festival will pay those counties directly for these services.

The festival will also reimburse Okeechobee County for all expenses related to the festival, plus $3 per ticket sold for the event, which could attract as many as 40,000 people.

Local nonprofit organizations will participate in the festival. Local nonprofits raised over $100,000 in donations at OMF 2017.

OMF has established a 24-hour helpline to address concerns before, during and after the festival. Okeechobee residents are encouraged to call 866-834-6870 between Feb. 28 and March 5, for questions or comments regarding traffic, sound, signage or related concerns.

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