Barry Houser isn't going to let Wednesday's terror threat aimed at the heart of New York City prevent him from attending the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. After all, the head of the University of Illinois marching band has business to attend to: He'll be showcasing the "Marching Illini" in the annual procession along Sixth Avenue. It will be a first for the group, he said.
“We’re very worried about [terror threats], but we’re not going to change our itinerary because of it,” said Houser, assistant director of bands and director of athletic bands at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the school system's flagship campus. “But it could happen everywhere throughout the world.”
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a New York City tradition since 1924, is just one week away. It will follow both this week's terror threat targeting the tourist-populated Times Square area, purportedly issued by the Islamic State militant group, and last week's deadly terror attacks in Paris, for which ISIS also claimed responsibility. While it's unclear how or if they will deter groups of people from going to next week's festivities -- which attracts about 3 million people a year -- the New York Police Department, which has planned an increased security presence, has downplayed any impending threat.
“I’m flying my family in from Los Angeles and I’ll be happily watching that parade with them,” NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said Wednesday, noting that for the first time in the parade's existence, there will be an additional 1,300 officers present, all assigned to units related to counterterrorism. In all, thousands of police personnel are expected to be on hand next Thursday.
Houser said he plans to take about 375 students to march in the parade, and only one student and one parent of a student have asked questions about the trip. But neither questioned if the band was still going.
“Obviously with what has been published in the media, it has brought a heightened awareness, so that is something we continue to be vigilant about,” Houser said.
— WKBN 27 First News (@WKBN) November 19, 2015
Every year, Macy’s makes sure to work closely with law enforcement to put comprehensive security plans in place for the parade, the famed department store company said in a statement emailed to International Business Times.
“As with any public event in New York City, security is extensive, from the very visible presence of law enforcement officers to wide-ranging behind-the-scenes security operations,” Macy’s said in a statement, which indicated security would be placed along the parade route that runs roughly from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the famous Macy’s on 34th Street. “The safety of our participants and spectators is the top priority for us and our agency partners.”
After Friday's attacks in Paris, which killed at least 129 people and left hundreds more wounded, Bratton insisted there was no identified threat to New York. Still, the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Bureau has deployed resources in the city as a result of the attacks, he added.
“We’ve thwarted 20 attacks against this city since 9/11, but they are coming at us much more frequently,” Bratton said, according to the NYPD’s website. “But at the same time, we have to be prepared to defend for when an attack occurs."
A new counterterrorism unit also has been rolled out by the NYPD, which has an additional 500 police officers to handle threats of terrorism. They will also be joined by 800 new tactical response officers, the NYPD said.
— BBC World Service (@bbcworldservice) November 19, 2015
After the 9/11 attacks that devastated New York City, police presence was heavy at the 2001 parade, which occurred just a little more than two months after the World Trade Center was struck by hijacked planes. While the NYPD at the time didn’t say exactly how many officers were staged on the route, law enforcement there was about 10 percent to 15 percent higher than in years prior.
"What we're trying to do from a public safety standpoint is to assure people that we are working very hard all the time," Bratton told WCBS-TV, New York. "We're constantly on the offense and improving our defenses."