When lightning threatens an outdoor activity, it is usually postponed so that people may seek a safe location. When lightning threatens a large outdoor stadium, the game or event itself is usually postponed, but it is often difficult to ensure the safety of tens of thousands of spectators.
A study completed by the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado found that many large college football stadiums do not have an emergency plan for adverse weather. Although stadiums may employ a general evacuation plan, complete evacuation is counterproductive for lightning safety. Outdoor events which fill stadiums to capacity are at the highest risk since there is little room for people to move about. The University of Colorado study detailed five lightning-related incidents at games within the last two years. In some cases, stadium officials did not have adequate and timely knowledge of an approaching storm. In other cases when officials knew of such a storm, crowd management actions (or lack thereof) frequently resulted in near panic situations where exits were blocked and/or fans were left in the open during the lightning storm.
Lightning safety recommendations exist for both players and spectators during collegiate sports. However, most stadiums do not have weather-related emergency action plans or do a poor job of controlling crowd movements and ensuring safety. The study recommended that stadiums and other outdoor venues develop an action plan specific to weather (main focus on lightning) situations. This plan should incorporate crowd management strategies. Alternatively, the stadium may choose to add safety features such as more lightning rods and/or suspended grounded wires so that spectators are protected at their seats.
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