IAVM’s one-day Severe Weather Preparedness event at the Marriott Quorum Hotel in Dallas came and went with the intensity and urgency one associates with, well, severe weather.
From real-life severe weather experiences at venues to understanding severe weather tools to looking at advances in weather science to be better prepared to exploring severe weather cases from legal standpoints, attendees were treated to a single day of information and education to help them address all aspects when it comes to severe weather.
“Terrorism is always on the table, but severe weather is the first thing,” said Paul Turner, CFE, senior director of event operations, Dallas Cowboys/AT&T Stadium, joined by Rob Matwick, who works just across the street from Turner as executive vice president, business operations for the Texas Rangers, on a panel moderated by Billy Langenstein, director of event services, SMG/U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. “Severe weather is inevitable. You have to deal with it head on at some point.”
Then known as Cowboys Stadium and the home to the Super Bowl in 2011, back-to-back winter storms resulted in massive chunks of ice falling off the roof of the stadium less than 24 hours before the big game was played. One lawsuit was eventually settled out of court involving a man hit by falling ice while loading in equipment for the game’s halftime show.
In addition to the often recited elements of ice, rain, hail and tornadoes, Matwick listed heat as another consideration when talking severe weather. The Rangers plan to move into a new climate-controlled stadium in 2020, but at current Globe Life Park heat is a serious topic in the summer for players, fans and stadium employees.
Still, major storms have left their imprint at the ballpark as well, most notably on July 9, 2012, when a loud thunder clap from a lightning strike literally sent players from both teams along with the umpiring crew rushing off the field into the safety of the dugouts.
“Our biggest concern is our upper deck,” Matwick said. “It is pretty wide open. Lightning and tornadic activity is the biggest concern. Even on the concourse sometimes we get 30, 40 or 50 feet of blowing rain coming in.”
Matwick noted that lightning can travel four to six miles. “When we get word it is 12 miles away it give me time to move people from the upper deck,” he said. “When we get a warning at eight miles, we need to have the upper deck cleared.”
Turner said that the Cowboys identify three “levels” when it comes to severe weather, with the first level meaning for fans to get inside the venue (if they are outdoors tailgating or making their way from parking lots to the venue), the second level meaning that certain parts of the stadium are off-limits and the third level that no one can even be in the bowl as panels could likely fall in a tornado.
The detailed nuances of severe weather were left for Janice Bunting, executive director, National Weather Association, and Mike Smith, senior vice president and chief innovation executive of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, to address in the next two sessions.
In her presentation on Identifying & Understanding Venue & Event Weather Hazards and Resources to Mitigate Risks, Bunting noted that while tornado warnings typically get the attention of the public, severe thunderstorm warnings are not met with the same seriousness. “Many people don’t take severe thunderstorm warnings as seriously as tornado warnings,” she said. “I wish they would.”
Bunting further discussed how weather forecasts are made, including looking at upper air data, assessing satellite data and using radar and surface data. “We plug them into mathematical equations and plug that into a weather forecast,” she said.”
Smith brought several videos to his presentation on The Use of Weather Science to Manage the Risks Extreme Weather Poses to Venues. Like his predecessor, he spoke some about lightning and noted that 40 percent of fatalities are associated with the first bolt of lightning. Further, he said, the National Weather Service does not issue lightning warnings.
“You must have an effective plan,” he said. “The danger is getting the answer you want from someone rather than the best answer. One or two sources actually lead to better decisions than six or more.”
Smith gave food for thought when he said that if a venue does not have a severe weather plan, officials are less likely to call off an event when bad weather approaches.
“Deviations from the plan should not be allowed,” he added. “If something goes wrong, fix it after the event. There should be a clear chain of command with the authority to act and determine in advance on decisions to make or not make.”
Smith also called the use of signage as critical to instruct guests what to do in the event of severe weather. Further, guests should be updated at least every 10 minutes and perhaps even in five-minute intervals to avoid the possibility of rumors being spread about what is being done and communicated.
Peter Ashwin, principal, Event Risk Management Solutions LLC, kicked off the afternoon by shifting gears with the topic of The Nexus: Risk Management, Contingency Plans & Critical Decision Pathways for Severe Weather.
In its simplest definition, Ashwin called risk “loss or gain arising from people, systems or external events which have the potential to cause the organization to deviate from its mission state or objectives.” He spoke at length about the severe weather risk controls of preventative, detective and corrective and said that “Yesterday’s incident becomes today’s risk.”
Joey Sampson, partner, McCathern, PLLC, the firm which represents the Dallas Cowboys, concluded by discussing Legal Considerations for Venue Management in Severe Weather Situations.
Sampson covered such legal considerations as general duty before moving into specific severe weather elements including ice/snow, severe wind (storms and tornadoes), severe heat, and finally presented additional severe weather examples.
Throughout all the legal considerations, Sampson reminded the crowd that a general statement of law is that the venue has no duty to warn patrons of naturally occurring weather events and that people are expected to know and appreciate dangers.
Many such examples are of course obvious, but Sampson also visited sudden severe weather such as the incident on May 3, 2009, when the team’s practice facility roof collapsed during a microburst event that injured 12 people.
Each session offered Q&A opportunities following the presentations. Those drew several hands raised from the audience, a clear indicator that the message of severe weather had gotten through and that those in the crowd did not want to be the next victim when they returned to their home venue.