Ultimate Guide to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

By: Kathleen Seiler Neary  | 

Parade Security and Logistics

NYPD, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
New York Police Department officers with machine guns and other counterterrorism gear stand near an unmarked police van during the 90th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. EuropaNewswire/Gado/Getty Images

Though the New York Police Department doesn't release exact numbers on how many of its force patrol the parade, police presence is obvious. Safety precautions have been increased in recent decades. Then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani appointed a 12-member task force to review the 1997 incident where a Cat in the Hat balloon crashed into a lamp post, injuring four people and leaving one in a coma. In 1998, guidelines were set that prohibit balloons from flying if sustained winds exceed 23 miles (37 kilometers) per hour or if gusts exceeded 34 miles (55 kilometers) per hour. Balloons must not be more than 70 feet tall, 40 feet wide or 78 feet long (21 x 12 x 24 meters) [source: Chan].

In 2006, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed a five-member task force to review a 2005 balloon incident where an M&M balloon forced a street lamp top over, injuring two sisters [source: Chan]. 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 Thanksgiving Parade Route
Macy's Thanksgiving Parade Route
Courtesy Macy's

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 setup 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, New Jersey. Mechanical street sweepers are used to clear the mess. In 2012, one website reported it took 75 sanitation workers and 15 sanitation officers to clean up 40 tons of parade debris.

Originally Published: Nov 17, 2019

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