What to do when Lightning Approaches Your Event
When it comes to outdoor event planning, wind is usually considered the most dangerous weather condition. It can blow tents over, sure. But in my experience, lightning is life-threatening weather. Especially for a large outdoor crowd gathering.
Most event planners don’t have a prepared plan or protocol for moments when lighting becomes a serious risk. This is a big mistake. Just getting everyone out of the rain isn’t enough. Your guests, vendors, and crew all need a secure indoor location no matter how big your event is.
THE 10 – 30 LIGHTNING SAFETY RULE
When in doubt, there is a well-established lightning safety protocol
known as the 10-30 rule.
Evacuate when lightning is 10 miles away
Resume 30 minutes after the last strike
This formula seems simple, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. There are many other factors to consider when adhering to lightning safety. Windspeed is still a serious concern. As is getting the entire outdoor event, including your planning and implementation partners, to adhere to the protocol. Here’s how to do it:
HAVE A TRAINED TEAM
The first step is to have a well-trained team who already knows and is ready to enforce the protocol. Whoever your core event-planning team is, brief them on the lightning rule and what needs to be done if lightning gets too close to the event. Having others who know what to do and will back up your plan to keep the attendees safe from lightning will help you spread calm and control over an event that might otherwise erupt into protests or chaos.
ESTABLISH THE PROTOCOL WITH YOUR PLANNING AND SAFETY PARTNERS
Next, establish the lightning protocol with any other teams you are working with. Get their buy-in to the protocol in advance of the event. Your incident command team and the local public safety agencies may have different (more lenient) lightning protocols and be reluctant to evacuate the moment you see lightning that is too close.
However, I have found that if you set up a meeting and establish the protocol beforehand, that other teams are more likely to respect the 10-30 rule. After all, no one wants to be wrong about loosening a safety guideline.
BUILD AN EVACUATION BACKUP PLAN
Have a plan. Every great event planner has a backup plan if it rains or if the wind kicks up to high-speeds. So make sure that you have a lightning plan as well to get everyone to a safe, protected indoor location. For small outdoor events, you can often find a nearby venue that would be willing to shelter your attendees and maybe even keep the event rolling when lightning’s in the sky. For bigger events, like when the entire Husky Stadium had to be evacuated, use any lightning-safe structures available to you.
While UW ushered 70,000 football fans to safety in the concourses and roofed areas of the stadium, we coordinated the guests and crew of all surrounding events to take shelter in the parking garages, loading docks, and buildings nearby until the lightning passed. Altogether, it was far superior to anyone getting hurt during an event with thousands of people, open sky, and a lightning storm.
COORDINATE WITH VENDORS AND CREW
You also want to be prepared to coordinate with vendors and event crew. Not just to get everyone to safety, but also to coordinate when the event can start back up again. Resuming your event when the lightning passes means being able to bring everyone back together to provide all the services and amenities of the event before it was interrupted. Not to mention call your guests back if they scattered to various shelter locations.
BE FIRM WHEN IT’S TIME TO GO
I must tell you that the hard part of enacting this standard is having the courage to implement it. No one wants to evacuate an event full of attendees. Especially if those attendees are so enthusiastic that they don’t care about the rain, like our football fans. But keeping your guests safe in the face of resistance is the most courageous and responsible thing you can do. Evacuate when necessary. You may regret the weather and the situation, but you’ll never regret saving a life.
RESUMING THE FESTIVITIES
Finally, be ready to call everyone back 30 minutes after the lightning stops. Whether dangerous weather interrupted a game, a wedding, a festival, or a corporate event, it will be safe to resume when the lightning is gone. And many people will still want to jump right back into the festivities. If you have coordinated, planned, and executed everything correctly, your event should be reconstructed and repopulated with enthusiastic partygoers to wrap up the festive day once more.