The Nebraska State Fair took a big step Friday to greatly improve its ability to provide security and internet connectivity for visitors and vendors during the fair, which this year is Aug. 25 to Sept. 4.

At its April meeting, the State Fair board approved $265,000 in funding for Pierson Wireless to improve and expand the fair’s internet connectivity, along with updating its wireless infrastructure with the latest generation of wireless technology.

Joseph McDermott, State Fair executive director, said the funding will be spent during a three-year period, with the bulk of it in 2017.

“The money will go for an improved wireless network across the grounds using the latest technology,” McDermott said.

Included in that funding, he said, will be security cameras that will record video to a hard drive.

“The Nebraska State Patrol and the Nebraska State Fair are looking to increase the level of safety and security for our fairgoers,” McDermott said. “That is why we are spending that money. Over the course of the next three-plus years, I’m sure that we will be adding cameras that the State Patrol and our own internal security staff can better monitor who’s entering the grounds and the activities that are taking place on the grounds.”

He said the whole system is designed “to make our fairgoers feel safer.”

As more and more people are connected with their smartphones and other devices, the fair board felt that increasing the ability of fairgoers and vendors to connect to the internet is vital to provide a better fair experience.

The new system will better reach all areas of Fonner Park during the State Fair and make it easier to get access through the State Fair wi-fi system with a faster signal and wider coverage, especially as the fair expands to the east area of Fonner Park and adds more new attractions and events.

“We like to think that we are the most technologically advanced fair in the country,” McDermott said. “There are fiber optics laid in most areas of the grounds, but the older part of the grounds does not have fiber. What we are looking to do is to improve the wireless signal groundswide, which includes the older part, so as fairgoers are on the grounds, they can connect to the network, post to social media and that type of thing.”

He said they want everyone to have a “better experience here at the fair.”

“Of course, the technology is aimed at all fairgoers, but certainly the younger clientele don’t go anywhere unless they are connected,” he said.

McDermott said this investment will allow the fair to do other things that improve the operations of the event as well.

He said the improved wireless network and the security cameras inside facility buildings and out on the grounds will be installed prior to the 2017 fair.

In other State Fair board developments, Kathleen Lodl, who represents the 4-H program on the board, provided an update about Raising Nebraska and what will be new for the 2017 State Fair and its year-round presence.

Last year, the interactive display on all aspects of Nebraska agriculture that is located in the Nebraska Building had contact with 560,000 people. A total of 1,385 participants received 190 hours of instructional teaching during Raising Nebraska’s 44 programs for schools, youth organizations and daycares.

Lodl said that plans are being developed to increase the activities and attractions in the outdoor part of Raising Nebraska during the fair, along with expanding some of the exhibits located inside.

Another goal is increasing the education component of Raising Nebraska during the fair by bringing nationally recognized speakers, such as personalities from the Food Network to give cooking demonstrations.

Kim Pederson, volunteer and program coordinator for the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, also updated fair board members about the volunteer program during the fair.

The chamber coordinates the volunteer program and Pederson said they have a goal of recruiting 800 volunteers for the fair this year.

She told the board that she is updating the various volunteer job descriptions and working with area businesses on a program that will allow some of their employees to work as volunteers during the State Fair.

Also, Pederson said the third annual Nebraska State Fair Volunteer Appreciation Kickoff will be held May 8 at the Pinnacle Bank Arena at Fonner Park.

To learn more about the State Fair volunteer program or to volunteer, visit www.statefair.org/p/getinvolved/190

Reporter

I cover business, ag and general reporting for the GI Independent.

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