The Firefly Music Festival presents an annual challenge to everyone trying to keep music fans safe

While this year’s Firefly promises something new and different inside the gates, there’ve also been some changes and improvement to what’s going on outside the fence.

With tens of thousands expected over four days, June 15 through 18, managing traffic and keeping music lovers safe is proving a challenge.

Fortunately, lessons learned during the past five Firefly events and years of biannual NASCAR races have given planners a good handle on planning ahead.

As far as Firefly is concerned, figuring out what to do each year starts almost as soon as the final act packs up their instruments, noted Gene Donaldson, operations manager for DelDOT’s transportation management center near Smyrna.

About 17 years ago, DelDOT put together a committee of representatives from Dover and state police, Dover International Speedway, Dover Mall, to work on traffic problems. Since then, they’ve added a representative from Red Frog Events, which puts on the Firefly festival, Donaldson said.

“The first thing we do is go over the event, see what worked and what didn’t and plan for the next event,” Donaldson said. Because the May NASCAR race and Firefly take place within weeks of each other, most of the same people are involved for both events.

“We’ve been doing that for multiple years and it really works well,” he added. “It means we’re not trying to figure things out during the event.”

Dover Police Department spokesman Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman said Dover officers and Delaware State Police troopers are expecting heavy traffic particularly during the morning and afternoon commute.

“We urge local residents to have patience when traveling the roadways, utilize roadways other the Route 13 and leave earlier that normal to arrive at your destination on time,” Hoffman said.

“We also remind everyone to be aware of increased pedestrian traffic but also to pay attention to temporary signage, officers and other officials that will be directing traffic,” he added.

Although there have been no reported serious traffic incidents involving Firefly attendees, a 2016 single-vehicle crash immediately adjacent to the festival grounds resulted in fatal injuries to a Virginia man. Two other men also were injured.

Pedestrians a cause for concern

Key to keeping things under control is a joint operations center that’s activated for each event; Donaldson monitors everything from the state’s traffic management center. There, controllers can adjust routes and change the timing on traffic signals anywhere in the state as a means to keep traffic moving.

A Delaware State Police helicopter will be in the air to monitor traffic around the festival as well.

This year, as in 2016, DelDOT will shut down Persimmon Tree and Leipsic roads to all but area residents. The traffic bridge going over State Route 1 will close at noon Thursday, the first day of the festival, and is scheduled to reopen at 8 a.m. Monday, the day after the festival closes.

The main reason is safety.

“We’re doing that because of the amount of pedestrians,” Donaldson said. “We feel it’s safer to keep that area closed to vehicle traffic.”

Managing traffic around Firefly is a more intricate affair than for the NASCAR races, Donaldson said.

“With NASCAR, people go in, they stay for the race and when it’s over, they come out,” Donaldson said. “With Firefly it’s extended. You do get a big surge going in or leaving the car lots and RV parks, but you’re dealing with a much larger area and people who are moving around constantly for many hours.”

One thing that may complicate matters this year is the single-day passes, which are projected to increase traffic over previous years. People will be checking in to the campground at 11 a.m. on the day of their pass and leaving by 10 a.m. the following day.

New shuttle service available

“Our goal is to make sure we get people in smoothly and keep them safe at all times,” Red Frog senior Director of Operations Michael Coco said. “Safety is our priority, but we also want to make sure things run smoothly.”

Plans for moving people around at this year’s Firefly are basically the same as in 2016, Coco said. While the shuttle routes will be similar, there will be a new service to take fans from the venue to the Wawa store at 2800 N. Dupont Highway.

Dover residents living near the venue were notified by letter about detours they’ll have to make to get to and from their homes, he said; there’s also DART bus service these individuals may use.

“DART put that in before the festival,” Coco said. “It’s regular service and they’re making sure it’s available.”

One unknown element when it comes to holding an outdoor festival is the weather. The Saturday venue was evacuated in 2015 when thunderstorms moved into the area shortly before 10 p.m. Fans streamed to their cars or RVs while others had to walk back to hotels or camping areas while lightning flashed around them.

“That actually was a very successful evacuation and people got to their cars and shelters within 45 minutes,” Coco said. “But after the fact we heard from folks that had a harder time.

“We’ve learned where the holes were two years ago and revised our evacuation plans after getting a lot of feedback on things we did well and things we could have done better,” he said.

“So far this year the weather forecast is looking pretty good but you have to plan for the worst. If we have to evacuate, we definitely will be prepared and hopefully things will go smoother than two years ago.”