Ultimate Guide to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

By: Kathleen Seiler Neary  | 

Parade Security and Logistics

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
The 96th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will feature mix of giant character balloons, floats, marching bands, musical stars and of course, Santa Claus. Macy's

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 increased in recent decades. Former mayor Rudy Giuliani appointed a task force to review the 1997 incident where a Cat in the Hat balloon crashed into a lamp post, seriously injuring four people. 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 now can't be more than 70 feet tall, 40 feet wide or 78 feet long (21 by 12 by 24 meters) [source: Chan].

In 2006, former mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed a 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.


2022 parade route
The 2022 parade route.

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 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 everything returned to its warehouse in Hoboken, New Jersey. Mechanical street sweepers are used to clear the mess.

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