The Event Alert System, or EAS, is a color-coded method of quickly communicating to participants the potential for adverse weather conditions that can affect the race event. A series of color codes is used to indicate the increasing severity of adverse conditions as outlined below:
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These adverse conditions are most usually related to heat stress. However, the system could also be used to warn of other potentially dangerous situations, such as cold, storms, tornadoes, or even non-weather situations like auto accidents or fires on or near the course.
This system, and the scientific measurements behind it, was originally developed by the United States military, as a guide to the level of heat stress soldiers might experience during training exercises in varying weather conditions. The system was adopted by the American College of Sport Medicine and now the RRCA is encouraging all events to implement a similar system. This system has been used by events such as the Bank of America Chicago Marathon,the IMT Des Moines Marathon and the Medtronic Twin Cites Marathon.
Heat Stress Calculation
The heat stress is calculated using a special scientific instrument, designed for that purpose. There are versions that can be permanently mounted in a fixed position, such as the side of building, and there are portable, handheld versions. The proper term for what is being measured is the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature Index, or WBGT Index. This index is expressed in either degrees of Celsius or degrees of Fahrenheit, depending on how you want your device to report. The WBGT Index is calculated using an accepted mathematical formula that takes into account the following variables:
- Ambient temperature (the usual “weatherman forecast” temperature)
- Relative humidity
- Solar radiation (not the “glow in the dark” kind, but rather the “sunshine on a black car hood” kind)
- The cooling effect of wind
The color codes correspond to specific parameters of the WBGT Index, with each color changing as the severity of the WBGT Index rises.
- Green – low risk – a WBGT Index of less than or up to 84.9F (29.3C)
- Yellow – moderate risk – a WBGT Index of between 85F to 87.9F (29.4C and 31C)
- Red – high risk – a WBGT Index of between 88F to 89.9F (31.1C and 32.1C)
- Black – extreme risk – a WBGT Index of more than 90F+ (32.2C)
Buy a Wet Bulb Thermometer for your Event
Be sure to include information in your race packet and your event emails about the Event Alert System. Display signs or flags at your packet pick-up that coordinate with the current conditions so people are aware of what to look for on course.
On race day, place the EAS near your start line to indicates the current Event Alert code. Take readings several times during the course of the event hour and change the color codes on signs or flags as the WBGT Index readings change. Place EAS signs or flags at several locations along the course. These signs should be placed close to aid stations, as most participants tend to slow down near aid stations and instructions can be given if the EAS code is red or black. Ensure you have a system in place and a volunteer ready to update the EAS codes as weather conditions on the course change.
If the course needs to be closed to due to “black” conditions, follow these guidelines:
- Have a course closure plan in place well before your race day.
- Have the announcer at the start/finish line announce that the race has been shut down due to dangerous heat/weather conditions.
- All Event Alert System signs on the course will be changed to the black color code.
- On-course personnel, course marshals, and aid stations will be informed of the course shut down so that they can then communicate the information to participants on course.
- Require ALL AID STATIONS TO REMAIN OPEN until the course has been cleared of participants and the aid station receives official instructions to close down.
- Follow-up with participants following the event to remind them that safety is paramount and apologize for making the tough call to cancel the event due to dangerous weather conditions.
Adapted from information found on the Queen City Marathon website
Tips for Event Cancellation Due to Forest Fires or Extreme Weather Conditions
From time to time members contact the RRCA regarding the very tough decision to cancel an event due to forest fires or extreme weather. As we are all well aware, it is a tough weather situation around most of the U.S. these days. With regards to canceling an event due to forest fires, Doug Thurston, Big Sur Marathon and Salinas Valley Half Marathon race director, had to make the tough call to cancel in 2016 for the Salinas Valley Half Marathon. Below is a great list of considerations Doug provided, and we encourage you to review the information and be prepared in the event that you have to cancel your event due to forest fires or extreme weather conditions.
- Keep in mind, the head fire-fighting agency in your area is closely monitoring the air quality. Check with them and their resident meteorologist on air quality, winds, and trends that may impact your course.
- Your permitting authority and public safety officials may want to make the call themselves about canceling the event. Keep in mind, however, that a lot of municipalities will leave it up to the race director to cancel to avoid any insurance claims form the city/county for canceling an event.
- When the Salinas Valley Half Marathon was cancelled due to forest fires, the race was quite rural with few road closures and residents affected. So, it was not that big of a deal or even necessary to notify the affected non-runner-public about the cancellation.
- Of utmost importance, keep your participants informed. Make sure they know you are closely monitoring the situation with public safety officials. List the agencies if possible.
- Be sure to keep local media informed of what you are doing and why. Their social media and instant news feeds, especially during a heightened situation, have enormous reach. Many of participants heard about the cancellation on radio, TV, websites before they opened an email or visited our Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Be prepared to answer questions from parents of the young and children of the elderly as well as those runners and volunteers with respiratory ailments.
Check with your medical director about air quality concerns. Talk to the local ER about what conditions they have been seeing from the smoke.
Don't ask your runners what to do. Some will always want to run no matter what. It is your job as the race director to protect everyone from potential harm. It is your job as race director to ensure you are not negligent in your decision making processes if you determine it is safe for the race to be held under questionable health/weather circumstances.
If you do decide to cancel or postpone the event, have a clear plan in place to inform participants and be ready with your policy regarding no refunds, deferred entries, transfers, refunds, etc. Think about all scenarios. We offered folks a deferment until 2017, taken by about one third; entry into our November Monterey Bay Half Marathon (a larger, more prestigious and more expensive race) (taken by another 1/3rd); or a tax-deduction letter. Only a handful wanted the letter. Note that we never heard from about 1/3 of the field despite repeated emails and even old-school postcards. Most of those were out of the area and no option really worked for them (or they never read their emails).
Develop a plan for getting race shirts and finisher medals to paid participants even if the event is cancelled. Most often, people will feel somewhat whole if they get something in exchange for a no refund policy in the event of a cancellation due to fires or weather.
Download the sample communications used to inform participants about the cancellation of the Salinas Valley Half Marathon as a template you can use should you be faced with the tough decision to cancel your event.
If you have a participant cancellation policy, such as Allianz, this is not a policy that will cover an athlete if YOU cancel a race due to weather or forest fires. Be sure participants understand the policy restrictions if you offered Allianz as an option during registration. If you have RegSaver or a similar cancellation policy, be sure you understand your policy coverage and can communicate the details with your participants.