Game Planning for the Fall Weather Season

The administrative staff, led by John Currie, is already hard at work preparing for another athletics season.

June 27, 2011

By Mark Janssen

In the Vanier Complex this summer, preparations have started for the September 3 season opener with Eastern Kentucky, plus coaching game plans for the other 11 Saturdays of football coming up this fall.    
Spread formations, power-I sets, 4-3 defenses and 3-4 schemes, as well, are all being discussed with counter plans put in place by the Kansas State coaching staff.
A couple hundred yards to the south in Bramlage Coliseum, K-State’s administrative team is also in action planning for the unexpected, which includes a strategy for potential weather scenarios.
Remember last fall?
On September 25 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, lightning strikes and boiling, ominous-looking clouds forced the suspension of play and the stadium to be cleared just three minutes into the UCF game. Heavy rains followed with action on the field delayed for 1 hour, 26 minutes.
Four Saturdays later in Waco, Texas, K-State’s game with Baylor was delayed 1 hour, 47 minutes just four snaps into the game due to a thunderstorm that included a multitude of lightning strikes.
Looking back on how K-State orchestrated its Weather Suspension Plan, Associate Athletics Director for Operations Casey Scott said, “We had a weather plan, we executed our plan, and it worked fine.”
On that day, no weather warnings were issued by the National Weather Service; the reason for suspended play was primarily due to the lightning strikes.
“In our safety plan, we employ a 10-mile lightning activity rule utilizing radar with real-time lightning detection,” said Scott, who added that both home game delays in his nearly 10 years with K-State have been due to lightning.  “The NCAA recommends that lightning strikes within a minimum of eight miles result in suspension of activity, so we’re a little more cautious when it comes to lightning.”
K-State activated its plan in time to get the teams to their respective locker rooms and the vast majority of the nearly 50,000 fans to the shelter of their vehicles or Bramlage Coliseum before the torrential rains hit.
“In that regard, we executed our plan fine,” said Scott.  “But we did learn good lessons from that experience.  For instance, we have modified our procedures on how we communicate internally so we can be even further ahead of the curve in getting the stadium gates and shelters opened, plus doing a better job of communicating through our K-State Sports Network with fans so as they wait in their cars or shelter areas they’ll have some information about what is happening.”
Scott added, “Stopping a game is never an easy call, but I feel very strongly we made the right call.  I hope we don’t have to ever do that again, but that’s probably not realistic.  So, we have to plan and be prepared – learn from our previous experience and be better the next time.”  
As for resuming play after a storm passes, K-State follows the NCAA rule of not restarting an athletic contest until 30 minutes after the last lightning strike that is within 10 miles of the stadium.
K-State’s baseball team was also involved in a weather suspension this spring while playing at Kansas on May 21 due to tornado warnings in the area.  
“We weren’t in imminent danger at the stadium when the tornado sirens were sounded, but they did absolutely the right thing in stopping the game and picking it back up on Sunday,” said Scott.  “You always have to error on the side of safety.”
Scott says the athletic department’s weather safety plan has been updated to include new videoboard storm messages and public address announcements, and there will be a better use of the K-State Sports Network for fans who have moved to shelter.
On June 14, K-State’s administrative team fine-tuned its Weather Suspension Plan by calling in the Riley County Emergency management team, Riley County and campus police officials, the fire department and members of the National Weather Service for a “tabletop exercise.”
Nearly on a minute-by-minute communication exercise, K-State went through its plan by looking at numerous hypothetical situations starting with the opening of the stadium to fans in the morning, to receiving a thunderstorm warning, to the spotting of rotation in clouds, to the observance of lightning strikes 7- to 10-miles from the stadium, to the evacuation of the stadium.
“The safety of our players and fans comes first whether it’s lightning, hail, or beyond,” Scott said. “Certainly, if there is lightning involved we are going to stop the game and communicate with our fans where they can go for shelter.”
Those locations start with a personal vehicle, but fans on the east side of the stadium are also encouraged to make their way under the concourse or to the K-State Recreational Complex.  Fans in the south end zone will be asked to take up protection in Bramlage Coliseum, while the Indoor Football Facility and the Brandeberry Indoor Complex will also be available to fans on the west side and in the end zones.
Fans are asked not to congregate in the limited area under the press box on the west side.
Scott says that game officials can stop play on the field due to unplayable rain conditions, but the referee will always be in communication with his team of administrative officials stationed in the press box.
Scott takes up residency on the fourth level of the press box where he has the availability of the WeatherSentry Lightning Detection Radar System.  In addition, Riley County Emergency Management personnel are constantly available in the Event Operations Center in the West Guest Services Office.
“Public safety is always our No. 1 concern,” summarized Scott.

This article was originally published in the K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact either Mark Janssen or Kansas State Director of Athletic Communications/SID Kenny Lannou. For those who would like to share Sports Extra with a friend or family member, or change your current email address, click here.