New York City police officers on motorcycles make their way down the route alongside parade participants. In 2006, police tested out Sky Watch, a portable two-story tower that allows an officer to have a better vantage point of the crowd. The tower can also be outfitted with cameras. Though the New York Police Department doesn't release exact numbers on how many of its 37,000-member force patrol the parade, police presence is obvious.
Safety precautions have been increased in recent years. Then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani appointed a 12-member task force to review the 1997 balloon incident that put a woman in a coma. In 1998, guidelines were set that prohibit the balloons from flying if sustained winds exceed 23 miles per hour or if gusts exceed 34 miles per hour. Balloons must not be more than 70 feet tall, 40 feet wide or 78 feet long [source: NY Times].
Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed a five-member task force to review a 2005 balloon incident that injured two sisters [source: NY Times]. The task force found that balloons should be flown at lower heights to avoid obstructions. The guidelines for how high a balloon should be flown vary for each balloon.
In addition to these guidelines, anemometers -- instruments that measure the speed of wind -- are mounted on poles at key points on the route, and each one is monitored with a portable computer by a police officer and a New York City Office of Emergency Management representative.
Macy's begins planning for the parade at least one year in advance and includes float and balloon creation, celebrity booking, volunteer coordination, and training for clowns and balloon handlers. As the parade grows closer, the preparations get more intense.
Well before the parade begins, objects that could obstruct balloons -- including arms of lampposts, traffic-signal poles, streetlights and trees -- are either altered or removed. On the eve of the parade, the balloons and floats are brought to New York City, and set up begins. By 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, the balloons and floats are ready to go, and parade participants take their places for the 9 a.m. parade start.
After the parade, floats are immediately disassembled, balloons deflated and all are returned to their warehouse in Hoboken, N.J. The Sanitation Department estimated it cost $30,000 to clean up after the 1990 parade [source: NY Times]. Mechanical street sweepers are used to clear the mess. According to the book, "Imponderables - The Solution to Mysteries of Everyday Life" by David Feldman, the parade's garbage rarely surpasses 10 tons.
Three new balloons will debut this year: Shrek, Hello Kitty and Abby Cadabby, a fairy in training from "Sesame Street." Also set to appear are celebrities such as Dolly Parton, Good Charlotte and Miss U.S.A. 2007, among others.
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