It’s Time To Revisit Weather-Related Stadium Evacuation Plans
With stay-at-home orders starting to relax, some stadiums are preparing to reopen their doors and outdoor gatherings are resuming, although neither will be at full capacity for quite some time. While safety plan updates are focused on social distancing and COVID-19 precautions, extreme weather will always need to be a safety consideration, and particularly now with different and non-traditional use of event venues.
Start an Emergency & Disaster Management degree at American Military University.
Lightning, wind gusts, extreme heat, hail, flooding, tornadoes, and hurricanes are among the risks for event venues. It’s important for venue operators and event organizers to be aware of these risks and have plans in place to mitigate them, whether there are 60 or 60,000 people in attendance. Partnerships between weather professionals and the event industry have helped raise awareness of the importance of weather planning and the use of weather-decision triggers to ensure safety of all people in attendance at events.
Revisiting weather-related evacuation plans as people start to return to outdoor activities and events will be important. That includes everything from youth sports teams who are beginning to hit the fields to some of the unique ways that stadiums are hosting events in this new age of social distancing. For example, the Miami Dolphins announced in late May that they are launching a social-distancing friendly, outdoor drive-in theater inside Hard Rock Stadium. This drive-in theater concept can host up to 230 cars, which poses the need for an evacuation plan that differs from the traditional, seated attendees. Whatever the event, at the core of any evacuation plan will be access to reliable and accurate weather information and consultation.
There are many resources to help with weather-related evacuation plans. For example, The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security recommends a clear decision maker for relocating spectators, and how it will be communicated. They also recommend using an evacuation simulation program, consulting the Department of Homeland Security’s Stadium Evacuation Guide, and doing mock evacuations with safety and security personnel. There are other resources available to venue operators including the International Association of Venue Managers one-day Severe Weather Preparedness Training program.
In addition to having an evacuation plan in place, utilizing accurate and reliable weather forecasting information can contribute to successful and timely evacuations. The University of Notre Dame, for example, has used a sophisticated weather system to help manage the potential effects of severe weather. Stadium management used real-time lightning detection, mobile accessibility and customizable weather alerts, while also having the ability to consult with expert meteorologists. The team marks locations of interest, such as the football stadium, and overlay it with weather conditions that are collected on site, not at the airport, or by local TV meteorologists who may monitor weather miles away. This technology helped the Notre Dame officials safely evacuate the stadium for the first time in history almost ten years ago. It was during the season-opener against South Florida and fans were forced to evacuate not once, but twice because of lightning. Those are the only two times in Notre Dame football history that those actions had to be taken.
Notre Dame is not alone in its commitment to stadium safety. The NCAA revised its lightning policy in 2007 to include any lightning strike within six miles of an open-air site automatically triggering a 30-minute delay. The NCAA also issued a recent reminder to universities to “create actionable weather service plans.” Most now have detailed procedures for delays and evacuations, and those plans begin with early storm detection. Typically, about a 30-minute window is needed to seek shelter or evacuate a venue.
There are many variables such as human behavior, type and degree of threat, and structure that add to the complexities of an evacuation plan but weather should always be taken in consideration, especially when it impacts the evacuation process. As we begin reopening outdoor venues—and reimagining new ways to use stadiums—it is time to revisit evacuation plans so that the public is informed, understands and can act appropriately.