When you have thousands of people gathered in an open outdoor venue, surrounded by a lot of metallic objects, it can be a recipe for a massive weather disaster that could potentially kill hundreds. This was a topic of discussion at the University of Maryland for NOAA’s lightning and safety workshop. Based on the lightning strikes that hit and killed over fifty people in two different arenas in India and China, decisions needed to be made on protecting fans and players during some of Mother Nature’s most volatile weather.
The science of lightning can be complex, as lightning bolts can hit in a range of over ten miles from the main storm and can measure at 200,000 amps, 300,000,000 volts with a heat measurement at over 60,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightning explodes concrete out of sidewalks, blows out bricks and devastates large trees. The threat for sports venues is real and the group needed to develop a method of protection for outdoor venues.
Amidst all of the various rules, regulations and ownership of evacuation policies and procedures came the main concept of weather warning. How do you alert the possibility of disastrous weather conditions to such a large group of people? The answer was right in front of their faces: use the main focus of every game, the electronic sports scoreboard as a weather warning tool.
The newer technologies of today bring up-to-the-minute weather conditions via internet based tools that can easily be displayed on smartphones, tablets and laptops. The key was to bring these technologies together for immediacy and fast alerts. In a method to move this forward quickly, NOAA created a series of resources in the form of a safety toolkit that can be accessed and used by stadium officials and control room technicians. These tools can be downloaded and evaluated to make the right decisions for potential storm weather warnings. The resources set out an actual plan, per stadium, that is submitted for review and approval by NOAA.
Many of the nation’s stadiums are adopting the NOAA resources and make use of a weather warning plan that is combined with a broadcast on the electronic scoreboards at their venues.
The creation and adoption of mobile apps is even being addressed for little league games with the Little League Weather Bug app. Easily downloaded, the app displays real time data for any lightning strikes in their team’s geographical area.
The NOAA resource plans, combined with will executed warnings using real-time data uploads offers the kind of tools that stadium managers can use in the case of drastic weather. Evacuating a stadium that houses thousands of people is a tricky business and must be done right to avoid stampedes, injuries and panic. Keeping the crowd updated on weather conditions at an early stage will give the fans some choices before a disaster as to whether they want to leave or stay. Electronic scoreboard broadcast of the weather conditions, is one of the best preventive measures.