Tailgate Times

Staying Safe During Severe Weather

By Karen Hunley

If you attended the 2009 West Virginia game at Jordan Hare Stadium, you might remember being herded to the stadium concourse along with thousands of other fans as bolts of lightning flashed just a few miles away. Not ideal, but it was the safest shelter option at the time, remembers Chance Corbett, associate director of the emergency management division of the AU Department of Public Safety and Security.

Severe weather shelters

Immediately after that game, Corbett says campus EM rolled out a new, improved severe weather preparedness plan. The plan designated several buildings just outside the stadium and throughout campus as severe weather shelters.

Haley Center, the AU Student Center, and Petrie Hall—all right at the stadium’s doorstep —are a few of the major designated areas. Opening these and other buildings is much more accommodating and safer than using the stadium’s concourse for the thousands of fans on campus on game days.

If lightning strikes within eight miles of the stadium during the game, officials stop play and announce that fans should seek shelter in one of the designated buildings. Fans may show their tickets to return to the stadium if the game continues.

Also, if the threat of a tornado or hurricane occurs within 20 miles or 20 minutes of campus, officials will make a stadium announcement to alert everyone of the possibility of severe weather. Follow-up announcements are made at 15 and 10 minutes, and if the threat is still present at eight minutes, people are asked to go to a designated safety building.

Controlling chaos

Once people get to these buildings for shelter, campus facilities personnel standing at the doorways should direct them to the safest areas of the building and attempt to control any chaos.

There are eight tornado sirens throughout campus, and officials can also broadcast live messages over speakers on the sirens. They can inform tailgaters of the nearest shelter, such as the basketball arena or the Ham Wilson Livestock Arena, which are both near popular tailgating locations.

Additionally, a map displayed on the front of all portable restrooms on campus shows the available storm shelters.

A vehicle or RV provide adequate safety from just lightning and some rain, Corbett said, but it is essential that tailgaters seek shelter immediately in one of the designated buildings if the tornado sirens sound.

“The best thing to do is to look at the weather before you come to campus and have a plan should (severe weather) happen,” he adds. “We don’t always have a lot of notice, so the public has to also take some responsibility.