2020 School Athletic Weather Safety Report

How does your school handle severe weather? If you’re not sure how to answer that question, this school athletic weather safety report is the right resource for you! Learn what your peers think of weather impacts, alerting tools, and overarching policies so you can better protect your athletic events.

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About This Report

Prompted by a growing nationwide focus on improving student safety, Earth Networks conducted the 2020 Athletic Weather Safety Management survey to help educational institutions around the country identify best practices and recommendations.

Over 500 education and athletic safety professionals responded to our survey. The titles of these respondents varied from principal to athletic director to emergency manager and everything in between. The insights garnered from this report represent the full spectrum of athletic safety responsibilities at an educational facility.

This survey was fielded in late 2019 and the following report focuses on:

The impact of severe weather

Lightning icon Top weather-related risks

alert icon Monitoring and alerting trends and challenges

thumbs up icon Weather safety investments and best practices

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The Growing Impact of Severe Weather

Severe weather is a common occurrence at schools and can strike any time of year. It’s no surprise that well over half of respondents (65%) identified severe weather as impactful (somewhat impactful to very impactful) at their school in 2019.

Graph showing how respondents marked the impact of severe weather.

What’s more is that the industry believes this negative impact to grow. In fact, 75% of respondents expect severe weather to be even more impactful in 2020.

Education’s Most Dangerous Weather Risks

So what weather conditions are your peers worried about the most? This chart shows us that the top three threats are lightning, heat stress, and high winds.

The most common severe weather threats amongst school athletic staff are lighting, heat stress, and high winds

It’s no surprise that lightning is the most common weather-related threat for students, spectators, and staff. Our 2019 U.S. Total Lightning Report showed that there were over 112 million in-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning strikes over the contiguous United States and that no state was impervious to this threat. It doesn’t matter where your school is located – lightning is always a serious threat.

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Focusing on Heat Safety

Another threat that got a lot of focus from respondents was heat stress. Each year, local governments and school districts implement new safety guidelines and technological requirements regarding heat safety and alerting.

Do You use WBGT To Measure Heat Stress at Your School? Unsure 6%, No 47%. yes 47%

The most popular methods for measuring heat stress amongst respondents include wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT), heat index, and temperature. WBGT is the most comprehensive measure, so it’s great that nearly half (47%) of all respondents indicated they use it.

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Weather Alerting

Weather alerting is the best way to combat lightning, heat, and all the other weather risks. There are a ton of different weather alerting methods out there, and each come with their challenges. This section includes weather alerting challenges and best practices identified by respondents to overcoming them.

Weather Alerting Challenges

Respondents indicated that getting people to safety and communication are the biggest challenges when managing severe weather. That’s why schools need better weather alerting solutions. We were troubled to find that for both lightning and heat stress, most respondents are still using antiquated or unreliable alerting methods.

What is your primary method for monitoring and alerting on lightning? 2020 School Athletic Weather Safety Report answer

Free weather applications are still widely used as a primary method for monitoring and alerting on lightning, despite their unreliability. Also lightning horns are being used the least, even though they are the most effective lightning mass alerting technology when connected to a total lightning network.

Likewise, too many professionals trust handheld devices for heat stress despite the need to physically move the device to different settings and free weather applications that don’t specify where data is coming from.

Waht is your primary method for monitoring and alerting on heat stress? From the 2020 School Athletic Weather Safety Report

Although only 17% of respondents use on-site weather stations, they are the quickest and most far-reaching method for accurate WBGT readings at your school. While handheld devices alone aren’t the best method, they can strengthen and verify the WBGT readings from your on-site weather station. This combination is the most comprehensive method for WBGT measurement and monitoring.

Weather Alerting Best Practices

What’s the most popular form of weather alerts? Well, 84% of respondents indicated they use mobile alerting solutions to manage weather threats on campus.

Which alerting methods do you use to manage weather threats on campus? from the 2020 School Athletic Weather Safety Report

Mobile alerts are a great way to stay informed no matter where you go, but they should always be from a commercial weather data provider. You can’t leave weather safety up to chance. Commercial weather apps and alerts ensure you know where the data is coming from and that it’s calibrated by an expert meteorologist for quality.

Weather alerts shouldn’t just be on your phone. All schools should have a comprehensive weather alerting solution that includes most of these methods. Horn and strobe systems are extremely effective when they are based on total lightning detection. We were happy to see that 72% of respondents use total lightning detection, which is rooted in science (unlike lightning “prediction”).

Is your lightning horn/strobe based on lightning detection or lightning prediction? 72% lightning detection, 21% lightning prediction, 7% unsure

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Weather Safety Policies

Don’t have a weather safety policy yet? You’re in the minority! Believe it or not, weather safety policies are the norm. 92% of respondents have a severe weather safety policy in place.

Do you have a weather safety policy or action plan at your school? Unsure 4%, No 4%, Yes 92%

But what does an effective weather safety policy look like? Weather safety policies for educational institutions involve analyzing your current risk, planning for alerting during different times, and implementing the correct technology to support best practice alerting methods.

Severe Weather Safety is Worth the Cost

As more and more schools and athletic programs are implementing commercial grade and automated weather alerting solutions, investment in weather safety is no longer reserved for “leading schools” but is rapidly spreading to all programs.  But don’t take our word for it. Nearly half of all respondents (42%) spend up to $2,000 per year on weather solutions. Another 60% indicated they pay for some sort of weather safety solution.

Student athletes playing football in front of a school building with the cost of severe weather safety spend increasing

Spending on severe weather safety is a long-term play. According to our survey, the number of respondents that pay for a weather safety solution is expected to rise to 66.9% in 2020.

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Protect Your Student Athletes with a Comprehensive Weather Solution

While schools are aware of severe weather threats and know they need policies and technologies to protect students, there needs to be a major shift in what makes up weather solutions. Free applications are unreliable, untrustworthy, and not comprehensive enough to protect everyone.

Schools need to use a comprehensive weather solution that includes (at the very least):

A dark blue "1" in a red circle Mobile alerts from commercial-grade weather data

A dark blue "2" in a red circle Mass notification systems based on total lightning detection

Other components that increase safety include on-site weather stations, meteorological support, and public weather displays.

Remember: 75% of your peers expect severe weather to be more impactful in 2020. If you haven’t already, it’s time to implement the right policies and support them with the right solution. Check our buying guide to draft your plan and pick your technologies

Click here to download our campus safety weather solution buying guide