Last November, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was marred by an incident where Red and Yellow M&M parade balloons fell into a streetlight. The lamp fell on top of sisters Sarah and Mary Chamberlain (ages 11 and 26) from upstate New York who watching the parade; luckily, the two were not seriously injured. Mayor Bloomberg promised to form a task force, and, yesterday, he released the findings of the Thanksgiving Day Parade Safety Task Force.

Among its findings, the Task Force determined that the 2005 accident was caused primarily by a discrepancy between parade guidelines and the reality of parade conditions. Specifically, while these guidelines assumed a parade “envelope” (the passageway for balloon flight) of 62 feet, the actual envelope where the accident occurred was only 39 feet. The implementation of the enhanced Safety Protocol would reconcile these discrepancies and assure a clear organizational structure governing parade preparation and execution with a set of technological innovations to improve balloon flight safety.

And what is this enhanced Safety Protocol?

The new Safety Protocol includes a streamlined structure of communication between the City and Macy’s from the beginning of parade preparation through post-parade review; an enhanced wind-testing system to provide real or near-real time wind measurements at major intersections along the parade route; a step-by-step procedure for parade preparation including review and approval of a parade route map showing all modifications of street lights and other “street furniture”; approval of all large balloons and their maximum flying heights; enhanced training of all parade personnel; parade day implementation of communication and decision-making procedure grounded in the Citywide Incident Management System (CIMS); and yearly post-parade reviews coordinated by OEM.

We're sure Sarah and Mary Chamberlain and their parents are happy about the new measures, but they will be watching the parade this year from a VIP section.

This year's parade will be on Thursday, November 23. And, as always, there will be balloon inflation on the Upper West Side the night before. And the worst parade route accident in recent memory is from 1997, when the Cat in the Hat balloon hit a lamppost that fell into the crowd; one woman was in a coma for a month.

Photograph of the Pikachu test flight this May by mgchan on Flickr