ND officials reflect on evacuation
Sara Felsenstein | Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Saturday’s football game broke a Notre Dame record — but not because of the football team.
For the first time ever in the University’s history, severe weather forced officials to evacuate fans from the Notre Dame Stadium.
Mike Seamon, associate vice president for campus safety and director for Game Day Operations, said he was happy with the way stadium personnel handled the evacuations.
“For never having done it before in the history of Notre Dame, we felt it went very well,” Seamon said.
NCAA requirements stipulate the Stadium must evacuate if lightning strikes within 10 miles. Notre Dame’s policy existed for decades, Seamon said, but evacuation was never necessary.
“It’s been a long-standing policy, longer than anyone here can remember,” Seamon said. “Every year we look at it, review it, update it. We’re constantly paying attention to it.”
After severe weather first approached the Stadium, Seamon said stadium official evacuated about 82,000 fans at the end of the first half.
Fans huddled in LaFortune Student Center, the Joyce Athletic Center, dormitories and other buildings around campus, waiting to hear that the game would resume.
Saturday’s halftime lasted two hours and 10 minutes as the storm approached and then moved over campus, Seamon said.
Seamon estimated about 60,000 to 70,000 fans returned for the second half. Tickets could not be rescanned after the first evacuation, so he could not provide an exact number.
“Given that the first delay was lengthy, we didn’t know what to anticipate,” Seamon said. “To see that number of people come on back after that two hour delay really speaks to what the Notre Dame family is like.”
To the players’ and fans’ dismay, however, the game was delayed another 43 minutes in the fourth quarter with just over four minutes left on the clock.
Seamon said lightning struck campus during the storms.
“Lightning during the storms was right up on campus, [but] we don’t have reports of any buildings being struck,” he said. “The number of strikes and the closeness to campus underscores the importance to heed the warning to evacuate the Stadium and seek shelter.”
Despite the weather, Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) officers also worked to maintain a safe game-day atmosphere.
NDSP arrested seven people Saturday, NDSP director Phil Johnson said.
Outside the stadium, NDSP officers arrested two people for shoplifting, three for criminal trespass and one for indecent exposure and public intoxication.
Additonally, he said one man was arrested for public intoxication at the Stadium.
Seamon said intense heat on both Friday and Saturday was a safety issue itself. He said fire and medical teams were “consumed with calls” for heat-related health issues.
Officials started tracking the storm well before the game even started, Seamon said.
“You had such intense heat in front of it and such drastic cold behind it, something was going to give,” Seamon said. “It was all about tracking when it would hit.”
The storm couldn’t have been more “square in the middle” of the game, Seamon said.
“We were hoping [it would hit in the] fourth quarter, but as the day wore on we just knew that wasn’t going to be the case,” Seamon said.
While Seamon said he was happy with the evacuations overall, he still saw room for improvement.
“We’re going to review [the evacuation policy] this week,” Seamon said. “We have several meetings to break it down step by step, what did we do well and what could we do better.”