Yet More Preventable Large-event Venue Casualties
Sunday brought news that ten race fans were struck by lightning at Pocono Raceway, and one of them has died. This wasn’t the first time NASCAR fans have been hit by lightning at tracks either.
It was preventable.
Early accounts indicate that the man killed was “in or near” his automobile. Metal-skinned vehicles, with doors and windows closed and the occupant not touching wiring or metal, actually are reasonably safe places to seek shelter from lightning. Their metallic cladding conducts the current around occupants like a Faraday cage. It’s possible he was trying to do the right thing, but hadn’t completed the act of taking shelter before the CG hit. I hope we learn more about those circumstances.
As for the broader safety issue at the facility: According to numerous media accounts (caveat emptor), fans were told via Twitter to “seek shelter as severe lightning and heavy winds are in our area.” This brings to mind a few immediate questions:
- Shelter where, specifically?
I hope the venue and event organizers communicated the specifics of shelter to fans more clearly than that.
- “Severe lightning and heavy winds” where in our area, and when will they get here?
This is rather important to know in order to help folks decide on sheltering options.
- What about those fans without Twitter, without smart-phones?
According to AP (via Sports Illustrated), “Public address announcements were made before the storm and the end of the race for fans to take shelter and evacuate the grandstands.” This brings us right back to the first question: shelter where, specifically? And it brings up the next one…
- For those without Twitter, where is the printed, venue-specific, storm-sheltering information readily available to fans at Pocono Raceway?
I’ve never been there; so I’ll have to rely on those more familiar than I am with the facility for that answer.
- Where is the venue-specific, storm-safety information online?
I’ve searched the facility’s web pages high and low, and as of this writing (4 a.m. CST, 6 August 2012), specific storm-sheltering information exists nowhere on the Pocono Raceway website. A logical place for it is in the “VISITOR’S GUIDE” area, in the FAQ subsection. It ain’t there. It ain’t anywhere, as far as I can tell. Have I missed something? It definitely doesn’t appear from a front-page FAN SAFETY menu link, as it should. No storm-sheltering information or weather-safety plan of any sort appears in the Pocono Fan Guide (13 MB PDF) either.
- Regarding each of the last few sentences: Why?
Now by asking these totally legitimate questions, I’m not putting all the responsibility on the venue and event organizers. They share it, but so does each and every fan, staffer, crew member and event participant. Yes, individual responsibility is at work here too. Each spectator at the venue should, on his or her own:
- Know the weather forecast before going, and decide accordingly whether to attend.
- Familiarize oneself with the facility’s weather-safety plan, if it exists.
- Upon arrival, or better yet in advance, scout safe areas that are most readily reachable from the seating or camping area, if they exist. Safe areas from severe thunderstorms are sturdy, permanent, covered structures–this does not include tents, campers, RVs, and trailers.
- Request from the facility a clearly understandable weather safety plan, if one is not apparent.
- Have a way to receive weather watches and warnings, whether or not the facility provides the information it should, and/or in case the power goes out. Have a backup way also.
- Know the difference between watches an warnings for each type of weather hazard that can affect the venue.
- Understand lightning safety, heat safety and tornado safety as it applies to wherever one may be at any given time.
- Decline to attend if it will be unsafe to do so.
More and more, we hear of large-venue weather disasters and casualties. This need not be the case. These incidents are not “Acts of God“, by virtue of the fact that they are predictable. As such, they are preventable!