How To Build Your Own Parks & Recreation Weather Safety Protocol
Build your own weather safety protocol in this step-by-step guide for parks and recreation professionals.
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Intro to Weather Safety
Why do you operate your park or recreation organization? While you probably have a few ways to answer that question, we bet that they all center on one thing: The community.
The people who frequent your park drive everything about your organization: from what features you add, to what programs you run, and more. When it comes to making any decisions at your park, your people are at the heart of every single one.
People seek recreation facilities and parks for a plethora of reasons. Some people enjoy these areas for the fresh air. Others enjoy them for a chance to socialize with friends, family, or teammates. There are also those who enjoy these spaces as a bright and airy alternative to the gym.
No matter how hard you strive to create a perfect oasis for your community, you simple cannot eliminate all the safety threats that lurk out there. While there are no easy threats to dispel at your facility, there is one that impacts everyone and has been around since the beginning of time. Whether it’s a city park or an amusement park, this threat remains the same. This threat is the weather.
Weather and Recreation
Your guests and employees probably check the weather before heading to your facility so they know how to dress for the day and what activities they can take part in. In reality, that’s the least of their weather-related worries.
What if high winds send facility equipment flying into the air? Or if a rogue thunderstorm pops up before guests have time to seek shelter? What if a heat wave catches guests off guard?
Besides your guests and employees, you probably have other stakeholders that feel the effects of severe weather at your site. Depending on the purpose of your facility and the activities you host, your stakeholders might include the community, local police or fire departments, sanctioning body guidelines, vendors, or league referees (just to name a few!)
Then there are severe weather conditions themselves. Depending on your location, there are a ton of dangerous and destructive weather events that can impact your campus. These events can be newsworthy like hurricanes, cyclones, and tornadoes, but they can also be every day severe weather events like lightning, heat stress, extreme cold, and high winds.
We’ve found that the most common severe weather conditions that concern professionals in the field are lightning, heat, and sustained wind speed. As we go through what an effective severe weather safety policy looks like, we’ll highlight these areas so you have a better idea of how to organize your plans around them, no matter what your operations are.
Build a Weather Safety Policy with the Three Pillars
There’s a lot to worry about with the critical task of mitigating severe weather at your park and recreation facility but don’t worry. We have a plan that covers everything.
An effective weather safety protocol includes three easy-to-remember pillars: Analyze, Plan, and Implement (API).
In this section, we’ll dive into all three pillars, so you understand how to build a strong and effective weather safety policy for your facility. So get out a notebook or your existing weather safety plan and get ready to craft a plan that protects everyone from severe weather!
Pillar One: Analyze
The first step in developing a weather safety policy for your facility is analysis. You must analyze several areas to ensure you consider all activities and stakeholders when severe weather threatens your area.
We recommend analyzing the following areas for a thorough analysis.
ASSETS AND EXPOSURES
ACTIVITIES AND EVENTS
THREATS POSED BY WEATHER VARIABLES
SANCTIONING BODY GUIDELINES
EVACUATION PROTOCOLS AND SHELTERING LOCATIONS
Assets, Exposures, Activities, and Events
The first thing you should analyze are your assets and exposures. Ask yourself who are you trying to protect? When are they in danger? How quickly can lightning, heat, or high winds take their toll?
This can always change depending on the activity or event that is going on at your facility. You should make a list of all the activities and events that put people outdoors. Sit down and do something thinking about when your guests, employees, and third parties are outdoors.
Threats Posed by Weather Variables
Then you can move onto threats posed by weather variables. Which weather variables are you susceptible to?
Almost everyone is susceptible to risks associated with thunderstorms including lightning, wind gusts, and hail; However, your specific location could see other disruptive weather variables like snow, heat, or even hurricanes. It might be helpful to talk with a meteorologist or refer to historical weather data from your area during this step in your analysis.
Let’s assume your three biggest weather safety risks are lightning, heat, and high sustained winds. It’s important that you look at the big picture when assessing these variables.
When most people think about lightning safety risks, they worry about ground-to-cloud lightning pulses striking humans, but there are other, less severe but still viable safety risks. For example, lightning can knock out power to your facility. This poses safety issues in several ways. Without power to lighting and emergency services, your guests are at risk.
Sanctioning Body Guidelines
Next, it’s time to look at any sanctioning body guidelines. What guidelines do you have to follow on an operational level? What guidelines do any sports programs have to follow?
Some common guidelines may belong to local or state governments or might be specific to heat stress and heat acclimatization. Make sure your policy follows these guidelines so you can be compliant and eliminate any liability at your facility.
Heat stress and related injuries are no joke. That’s why many groups implement heat acclimatization and wet bulb globe temperature guidelines to keep athletes, outsider laborers, and general guests safe.
To comply with any sanctioning body guidelines regarding heat illness, we recommend searching your local government’s website and the websites of local athletic training and high school institutions. If there isn’t a sanctioning body guideline in your area, adopt the best practices outlined by a trusted source, like the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) or the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
Evacuation & Sheltering
Finally, we recommend analyzing evacuation protocols and sheltering locations. Ask yourself what do you do during each threatening event? Where does everyone take shelter?
Remember that if an event includes a high volume of people at your park that it may take longer for everyone to realize a severe weather threat is imminent and longer to reach the designated shelter location. Therefore, consider adding time to alerting procedures.
All severe weather event sheltering locations should be safe and appropriate for the threatening condition. Tents, pavilions, and other shelters without grounding and four walls are not adequate shelters for lightning and high wind events. This is because tents and pavilions do not protect occupants from electrocution by a lightning strike and they are susceptible to being damaged or even picked up during sustained high winds.
When creating your sheet, make sure you write everything down. It’s fine to include details, notes, or questions. This will help you craft the most effective policy. We also recommend asking your colleagues to look over your analysis to ensure you didn’t miss anything.
Pillar Two: Plan
Now that you understand the in’s and out’s of your specific organization, your stakeholders, and your specific weather threats, it’s time to plan. Planning includes three steps:
Building a Custom Policy Spreadsheet
Developing a Plan of Action
Detailing an Effective Communication Strategy
First, build a custom policy spreadsheet based on the results of your analysis. This will include separate policies depending on the outdoor activity, severe weather variable, season/month, and responsible parties.
For example, the head of your recreation services should have separate plans for wellness and fitness classes, arts and crafts, and outside sports leagues.
You could create policies for summer, fall, winter and spring seasons which highlight the associated weather risks with call-outs to specific staff members of implementation responsibilities.
If you want to get specific (which we recommend) you can think about the threat heat poses to wellness and fitness classes and write a policy for how to adjust these programs when temperatures exceed safe perimeters.
Make sure you summarize the threat, teach the symptoms and responses, and who is in charge of seeking medical assistance.
Plan of Action
Next, it’s time to develop a plan of action. An effective plan of action includes the following:
Forecasting and Detection
Safety Protocol During a Severe Weather Event
Designated Safe Shelters
Chain of Command
forecasting and detection
The first part of your plan should include what your key stakeholder groups should do when severe weather variables are in the forecast. Where are your forecast or weather warnings coming from? You must document this information.
Cloud-to-ground lightning strikes only make up approximately 20% of all lightning pulses. Your detection tool should monitor both cloud-to-ground and in-cloud lightning pulses so you can monitor and alert on all lightning strikes. We call this “total lightning detection.”
We also recommend having a plan for alerting procedure. What’s the best way for alerts to reach the right people at your park?
This will vary depending on your specific location, coverage area, operations, and key stakeholder groups. Maybe physical horn and strobe alerts are best. Maybe it’s text and email alerts to staff. Or it could be a combination of both. Whatever works for your facility, make sure it’s documented in an alerting procedure plan so everyone knows what to expect.
For lightning alert technology, we recommend a three-ring alerting approach. Let’s say the outer ring covers a radius of 25 miles around your park. While lightning is still too far to strike, it’s important that your safety personnel know dangerous weather could occur. We recommend having an email or text warning sent to the individual in charge of weather safety at your facility so they can monitor the situation and note of potential severe weather movement.
The next alerting ring is for a 15-mile radius. Now that the severe weather is closer the alerts and actions are a little different. We recommend sending text and email alerts to all key stakeholders in the park. Decision-makers should monitor the direction of the storm that contains lightning and be ready to halt the game and seek shelter.
Safety Protocol During a Severe Weather Event
Everyone should know what to do once those alerts come through. That’s where a safety protocol plan comes into play. This is an important part of your overall severe weather safety policy because it makes sure everyone is on the same page.
That’s where the third and innermost ring comes into play. Let’s say your inner circle is 10 miles around your park. This is when outdoor horn and strobes activate. These tools are great for lightning and other severe weather alerts because everyone can hear them or see them, so they know they have to take action. All outdoor activities should halt and everyone on the premises should head to designated indoor areas for safety until the all-clear.
Safe Shetler PLan
Once everyone knows severe weather is on the way, there needs to be a plan for what to do next. This might include securing loose equipment or seeking shelter. That’s why you need a safe shelter plan. In this plan, designate safe shelters and create resources like maps to help everyone find them when minutes matter most.
Remember: Every park operation is different. Your rings may be closer or farther away depending on how many people you have at your park on an average day, how much area your park covers, and what type of operations you have.
The last plan you need is a chain of command plan. Who is to implement the severe weather safety policy at your recreation facility? Don’t forget to write this down in the plan. Maybe there’s someone responsible on staff who has a strong interest in the weather. They might be a good fit!
Severe weather events can be frightening and chaotic. When you have comprehensive policies specific to your organization you ensure that everyone in on the same page. These policies will lead you through the stress and panic so that you can restore safety throughout your park.
Pillar Three: Implement
Now that you’ve analyzed and planned it’s time to implement these detailed, effective severe weather safety policies. You may wonder how to get these up and running at your park, but don’t worry. We have a little implementation checklist that you can follow.
Identify and install the technology or technologies to support your custom policy
Activate alerts against your established protocols
Disseminate policies and procedures
Communicate with external associations and emergency departments
Educate all parties about threats and safety protocol
Communicate the chain of command
Test, evaluate, and monitor
The first step in implementing your newly drafted severe weather safety policy is to decide which technologies will power it. You want your severe weather safety solutions to be as accurate as possible for your park.
Based on a hyperlocal network: Local to your specific area, not the nearest airport
Real-time updates: Updated every few minutes, not every hour. A lot can change in just a little time.
Automated alerts: Warnings automatically sent to you in your chosen alerting method, eliminating human error
Let’s say you’re an amusement park that wands to monitor sustained wind speeds to determine the safest operation status of taller attractions.
You need hyperlocal weather data because if wind speeds are off by just a few miles per hour, it could drastically compromise the safety of your guests. Real-time data also comes into play. Deciding based on wind speeds from an hour ago won’t help you ensure safety now.
Once you choose tools to help you monitor the weather conditions that threaten your operations most it’s time to set up alerts against your established protocols. That means setting up the ideal alerts you identified in the previous sections. You could set text alerts for high wind speeds you deemed dangerous earlier in your API and shut down rides when winds reach those dangerous speeds.
Then you need to disseminate your policies and procedures with your staff. We recommend having a staff meeting to review all aspects of the policy and answer questions.
You can’t forget about the community, either! You should also have a similar meeting with the community to explain procedures to them and answer concerns.
We also recommend sharing your policy with vendors, governing bodies, and officials like referees you work together with. Make sure you explain expectations for when severe weather becomes a threat at your park.
It’s very important for both internal and external parties to understand the chain of command, so don’t forget that part while communicating about your new weather policy. Make sure everyone knows who they should listen to when severe weather approaches.
Don’t forget to test! The new weather safety policy at your recreational facility or park may look good on paper and sound good at a meeting, but it’s only through testing that we understand what it really looks like in the real world. Do some testing and if something doesn’t seem optimal, make changes until the plans runs smoothly.
Remember to reevaluate the policy yearly, at least. While severe weather events that impact your facility aren’t likely to change drastically, you may have overlooked a common weather variable. Sanctioning body guidelines are susceptible to change often, so make sure you’re always compliant with a yearly review. Another good reason to review regularly is to access how well your severe weather solution provider is doing. Is the technology working? Are the alerts giving guests enough lead time to seek shelter? Don’t miss this opportunity to ensure everything works perfectly.
You work hard to make sure your facility is everything your guests need it to be. Don’t let it fall short by overlooking weather safety.
Severe weather can pose a lot of problems for recreation and parks facilities. The best way to protect them is by building a comprehensive severe weather safety policy based on the three pillars of API: Analyze, Plan, and Implement.
Need help designing or implementing a severe weather policy? We are here to help! Contact us to chat with one of our seasoned weather policy experts.