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Security measures at the South Carolina State Fair operate around the clock

Matt Laschuma is the year-round director of safety at the South Carolina State Fair. He says the security measures operate around the clock during the fair.
Credit: WLTX

COLUMBIA, S.C. — During the two weeks of the South Carolina State Fair, almost 400,000 people walk through the gates, according to Director of Safety Matt Laschuma. 

To keep people safe, security measures happen around the clock. 

"Most people will never know what it takes to put this fair on, but it's a large, large undertaking," he said.

Laschuma has been working at the State Fair for 26 years. For him, it’s more than just a job.

"My father was out here. He just stopped after 45 years of working out here. He ran both admission gates," Laschuma said. "My mother was here selling tickets for over 20 years. My sister works on the south gate, you know, so it’s a family thing for sure."

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Now that the fair is in full swing, Lashuma’s day starts early.

"We sit down and have a relaxing meal where the phone's not ringing and the radio’s not going off," he said. "And then, you know, we come to the fair and it just starts then. That's when it kicks off."

Laschuma logs about 32,000 steps a day as he travels back and forth from each end. He even lives in a camper on the fairgrounds to make sure he’s within reach because there’s still work to be done, he said. 

Richland County deputies like Dennys Colon and Nathaniel Gamble help patrol the grounds.

"During the fair it's crazy. Music, people yelling, everybody's happy screaming," Colon said. "During the opening times, everybody's just calm, cool, collected, getting ready for a long day. So I think everybody just takes us time to relax and get ready for the day."

They spend the early hours making sure the stands are secure and understanding the layout. When vendors come in to start setting up, security is there to make sure it goes smoothly. 

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"There's always something that's going to happen at an event where you bring 400,000 people together. I mean, there's just no avoiding it," Laschuma said.

This year, there have been a few people arrested for jumping the fence and a few fights where security had to get involved. But overall, he said there haven’t been any major security concerns.

This is, in part, because of proactive security measures such as the youth admission policy which requires people under 18 to be accompanied by a parent, according to Laschuma.

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"We're pretty much an industry leader in kind of taking those upfront security measures to make sure that we can provide that safe experience where people feel that you know this is a safe place to come have a good time with their family," Laschuma said.

Other safety measures include the fair's clear bag policy and additional exit signs that have been painted on the grounds following the 2019 stampede.

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"We partnered with the University of South Carolina at their gameday center, and we operate a command post out there with the Richland County Sheriff's Department and the South Carolina Highway Patrol, Columbia Fire Marshal's Office," Laschuma said.

The goal is to keep people safe. For Gamble, patrolling the grounds also serves as an opportunity to get to know his community.

"I think this gives us the ability to continuously show that community connection and, you know, constantly build those relationships with people," Gamble said. "A lot of the people that we work for in these communities are also people that come to the fair."

"So, it gives other people the ability that's not from this state to come out and see, ‘Okay, well they actually share relationships in the community as well as the state fair,’ so we can be more human," he added.

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