Inclement Weather: Lightning, Hurricane and Snow

City of Tallahassee, FL (Pop. 190,000) is the state capital of Florida, with 8 facilities which house 11 pools and one interactive-fountain. Leslie Adams has been the Aquatic Supervisor with the city for 16 years and a total of over 20 years in the aquatics industry. Here is an excerpt from her interview:
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What is your lightning policy?

Florida is the lightning capitol of the US, we pretty much have thunderstorms daily in the spring and summer. It’s generally not rainy all day, it could be bright and sunny, then change quickly to stormy weather. To manage expectations and improve safety for our patrons, we have teamed with AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions which provides a service called SkyGuard Warnings. “SkyGuard” as we call it, monitors the weather and alerts us when a thunderstorm is within 15 miles. It is customized to our department and facilities throughout the city are split into zones. The alert comes via email and text message and only the emails and phone numbers associated with the effected zones are alerted. We have multiple layers in place to ensure alerts are received – including text message to the dedicated SkyGuard phone at our primary aquatics facilities and all full-time aquatics staff receive text and email alerts when their site is affected.

SkyGuard is set up to send us an “advisory” if there is lightning 8-15 miles away. When that’s received, we advise our patrons of the impending weather or approaching storm. Now, there’s no need to clear the pool, only keep the patrons informed. If we receive a “warning”; meaning there is lightning within 8 miles of the facility, we clear the pool and decks. We allow the patrons to stay at the facility and shelter in the restroom/locker area until the storm passes. Patrons can also go to their cars and wait out the storm. Once the storm has passed, they can then return to the water and resume their activities. SkyGuard gives a specific timeframe of how long the lightning warning or advisory is, an example being, “The lightning warning is from 12:05pm to 1:15pm.” The specific length of the warning removes the guessing of when it is safe to return to the water that the lifeguard or aquatic staff would normally have to do when there is a lightning storm. The advisories and warnings are often reduced or extended, but we at least have a good starting point. We also had instances where we’ve had multiple warnings in one day. Lastly, our lightning policy applies to all the city’s outdoor Parks and Rec programing: ball field reservations, outdoor camps, youth and adult sports, etc.

How does that effect refunds?

We don’t give refunds or rainchecks for daily admissions. We do our best to educate our patrons about our lightning and no refund policy in advance through signage and verbal communication, but it can still be challenging. We inform our customers that the fee they pay is good for the whole day so, they can leave and return the same day without any additional cost. Most understand but we do have a handful of people each year that strongly disagree. Overall, how the refund policy is set up removes any arbitrary decision being made by staff of when to refund and when not to.

Let’s talk about hurricanes…

They’re not common in our area, however we’ve experienced hurricanes the last two years. In 2016, Hurricane Hermine opened our eyes to the extent of damage a hurricane can bring to our area. Our normal protocol for an approaching hurricane: shut down the pools, take down umbrellas, remove any furniture or equipment that could fly away. With Hurricane Hermine though, we had widespread power outages. This was somewhat unexpected, and certainly out of our norm. Fortunately, we got power back at one of our facilities within a couple of days. That facility is coupled with a community center which allowed us to designate this facility as a “Cooling Station” open to the public.

What’s a “Cooling Station?”

It was September 2016 and the high temperature everyday was 90+ degrees Fahrenheit with about 90% humidity. There was no power to most of the surrounding area. People were HOT and miserable. As a Cooling Station, the pool and community center were able to provide a place for the public to go swim and cool off, sit in the air conditioning for a bit, just get the kids out of the house, take showers, and charge their phones and electronic devices. The community center was also a distribution center for ice and water. After a hurricane, having a place to go that allows you to re-charge, both your brain and body and your electronics is so needed. Even once all our facilities were reopened after the hurricane, we still allowed people to come in and shower for several weeks after until power in the surrounding area was fully restored.

For 2017, we were more prepared. We planned for more, but didn’t have the extent of damage as we had the year prior. We advertised in advance that showers and charging stations would be available provided the community center/ cooling stations had power. We definitely provided the same service, but not for the length of time.

How soon do you start with closing a facility prior to a hurricane?

We start to prep and put away non-essential equipment several days earlier. The main closing procedure happens the day before the hurricane. However, planning for a hurricane happens several weeks before with every department in city coming together. Now, our city’s emergency operations plan including hurricanes is fairly detailed, with the Aquatics unit playing our part in how we help the community.

Any other types of weather you’ve had to deal with?

We’ve had snow. It made national headlines this year.

What’s your policy on snow?

No snow policy specifically, just a cold weather policy really. If the air temperature is below freezing, we close the pools due to the steam that is generated by the pool. We can’t see across the pool, and lifeguards cannot see swimmers when there is so much steam coming off the pool.

Any advice would you give?

Have a policy, do your best to educate your staff and your patrons about it, then stick to it. Once the crisis happens, it’s too late to develop a policy.