Plan ahead to protect your field

This view from behind the bleachers toward the soccer fields shows the water level of flooding in Iowa.

Fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados and floods can occur at any time. In many cases, sports field managers have seen their facilities devastated by these natural disasters. While it’s impossible to anticipate everything that might occur, the more preparation done before the disaster, the better the outcome.

Be proactive

If you don’t already have one, develop an emergency evacuation plan for game day attendees and participants, and an on-site shelter plan should evacuation be impossible. Practice it with your staff so everyone is ready to act immediately. Keep copies of the procedures on-site, and inform field user groups of these policies. If it can be arranged, stage an emergency reaction drill to familiarize them with the processes.

Develop plans to mobilize staff members. Collect and compile staff contact information and who to contact in case of emergency. Keep this information both on-site and off-site, and have managers and assistants maintain copies of it in their files.

Disaster situations can cut off electricity. Develop alternatives when damage blocks traffic routes or power outages reduce access to fuel.

Assess maintenance facility organizational details, and equipment and supply storage policies, and make adjustments to preserve these resources on-site. Develop plans to move equipment and supplies to a safer site before a disaster strikes.

Keep facilities and fields in the best possible condition. Roof reinforcement on maintenance buildings can reduce damage at many sites within the hurricane zone. Several sports field managers in flooded areas noted that fields that were designed and maintained with good internal and surface drainage performed effectively when waters receded, leading to a uniform dry-out with no puddling.

Prior notice

Tornados, earthquakes and fires strike with little or no warning. Hurricanes and flooding move quickly, but often along predicted routes providing as much as 48 hours for sports field managers to prepare. Work the priority plan in order of importance assuming the worst possible scenario will occur. Many of those in the Midwest’s flooding last year faced water levels 20 to 35 feet higher than any recorded previously.

Preserving equipment should be at the top of the priority list. It’s the most expensive thing to replace, and much of it will be needed for post-disaster cleanup. Move it to the highest protected level to avoid high waters, which is often the upper concourse on a stadium. If it can be moved to an off-site location, take it to the facility at the highest elevation. Consider accessibility of these sites with possible road blockages and power outages.

The James W. Cownie Soccer Park is just one of the sports facilities in Des Moines, Iowa, affected by the flooding in 2008.
A deer, displaced by flooding, takes refuge on a strip of turf not covered by the floodwaters.

Protect supplies next, working with anything stored on the floor first. Palletize the bagged materials and large-size containerized materials as part of the maintenance building organization, and position the pallets for the most efficient pick up by forklift. As with the equipment, move the loaded pallets to the highest protected area available. Place smaller packaged materials on the highest-level shelves, within sealed, waterproof plastic containers, if possible.

If practical, and anticipated conditions warrant it, move IT resources, such as laptop computers, to a protected area. Take reasonable steps to preserve larger electronic and operational equipment and key print documents.

Work with irrigation systems next, taking steps to preserve them, such as disconnecting controllers.

The aftermath

After the disaster, assess the damage and develop a prioritized plan of action. With massive flooding, contamination may be a factor. Soil samples from all affected sites may need to be analyzed by governmental agencies for heavy metals, volatiles, E. coli and other bacteria to ensure that cleanup on the sites will not endanger workers. If this step is required, no facility personnel will be allowed on-site until the test results are received and activity is authorized.

Cross-training personnel is a huge benefit in disaster recovery, allowing faster in-house repair of irrigation and lighting systems or equipment. Expect to find it more difficult to hire outside contractors in those specialty areas as their services will be in high demand.

When many locations are involved, consider assigning multiple staff members to a single site to get it operational, and then moving that crew on to the next site.

Protect sites used for equipment and personnel mobilization or debris collection by covering heavy-traffic areas with plywood or commercial field coverings. Expect to lose much or all of the turf in these situations, but try to preserve the soil profile, and drainage and irrigation systems.

Though it’s difficult to cope when stress levels are high and so much work is needed for recovery of the damaged sites, it’s important to keep maintenance to normal standards at the non-affected or minimally affected sites.

Budgets will already be stretched by response during the disaster, so prepare for critical assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of repairing damaged facilities as compared to relocating them to sites deemed less susceptible to future natural disasters.

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.