Keeping an Eye on the Weather at Nissan Stadium

Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood—these stars and more drew thousands of country music lovers to Nashville's Nissan Stadium for the 2019 CMA Fest. Despite some inclement weather, the home of the Tennessee Titans filled with capacity crowds for four summer days in a row. To ensure that everyone in the audience, plus all the performers, stadium employees and officials remained safe among the droves of people rain or shine, the safety and security team at the stadium operated according to a predetermined playbook and with high-performance equipment. Referencing weather intelligence that weekend, stadium officials effectively planned for and executed best-practice shelter-in-place protocols when lightning struck nearby, without compromising the venue's screening process.

Developing a Plan

In previous years, things were not as seamless. A weather radio, consumer weather alerts on cell phones and, for major events, a representative from the local Office of Emergency Management—in the past, these resources provided weather information for a stadium with a seating capacity of nearly 70,000. At the time, the OEM representative monitoring the weather data system used by the municipality was a critical asset for operational decision-making. "It was solely based on that person's observations," said Floyd Hyde, Nissan Stadium safety manager, "and he wasn't always in the command center, so if he wasn't here, we wouldn't know about [a threatening weather event] until later."

Like most sports venues, lightning threatens the safety of those inside and outside the downtown Nashville stadium. According a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimate, as many as 62% of lightning fatalities occur during outdoor organized sport activities. Mitigating the risks associated with lightning is an important goal for the stadium, and shelter-in-place protocols for lightning constitute a primary tool for keeping people out of danger. With sources of weather information that could be unresponsive or unspecific, however, effectively and efficiently following the protocol could become a challenge.

When a shelter-in-place is executed before a game or event, venues of major size face a dilemma. Hundreds or thousands of people in line to be screened by security could be outside the structure, exposed to the elements. They must be sheltered, but simply allowing everyone access to the stadium and skipping security checks endangers everyone inside, since contraband may easily enter the stadium undetected. An ideal plan both provides shelter to unscreened crowds, and keeps them safely outside of screened areas so that standard security protections remain strong. A plan of this type would require some advanced notice of a shelter-in-place condition in order to take steps to appropriately ensure the two goals are met.

NFL best practices for stadium safety and security state that if lightning strikes within eight miles, stadiums must institute a shelter-in-place, but depending on second-hand information and weather radio, the stadium was "kind of just running it off the hip," Hyde said.

In order to better equip the stadium's safety and security team to make operations smoother and safer, Nissan Stadium officials contacted a number of weather service providers and scheduled demonstrations. To warn stadium employees of an impending shelter-in-place, the stadium's ideal weather service would allow the operations team to track severe weather as it develops to judge whether a threatening storm would approach the venue.

Advanced Storm Tracking and Lightning Data

During a previous year's CMA Fest, Nissan Stadium watched closely as storms developed. The operations team was reviewing two competitive weather service systems, and when comparing them, found Baron Threat Net to display changes in the weather more quickly. This option offered several other advantages, too, including a user-friendly interface. "It's just easy to work with," Hyde said. "It was just easy for us to show the other team members in the command center how to work their way through the filters and the programs." Most importantly, the service provided Nissan Stadium with real-time, actionable storm tracking and lightning data. Ultimately, stadium officials opted for the solution.

"The biggest thing we were lacking at that time was the distance of the lightning strikes," Hyde said. Now, "one of the good benefits of Baron Threat Net is that they have the detection set up where we can set our parameters to the eight-mile perimeter," he added. "We don't have anyone that's constantly monitoring the radar, so it's very helpful."

In fact, the stadium has set up several custom alerts, including for lightning within a 15-mile radius and within a 20-mile radius, to make sure key players know when severe weather might be headed for the stadium. This early warning capability allows the operations staff to involve the stadium's general manager and the Titans' vice president early on in the decision-making process.

During major concerts and events such as CMA Fest, producers and other entertainment professionals in the command center are easily advised of the weather situation. Lightning data is displayed with a color-coded lightning icon on the map, so users can differentiate between cloud-to-cloud (purple) and cloud-to-ground lightning (yellow for negative, white for positive strikes). The intuitive display—the larger the icon, the more recent the strike—allows all involved to keep abreast of any development so that any interruption to the show can occur in the smoothest way possible. On the other hand, the system enables the team to predict if a storm will not cross the stadium, meaning no time or resources are wasted preparing for a storm moving in the opposite direction.

"Baron algorithms depict what the future may look like 30 minutes to an hour down the road," Hyde said, so "we can start implementing our plan to secure parts of the stadium."

During the latest CMA Fest, Nissan Stadium had to initiate a shelter-in-place no fewer than three times. When these occurred, the stadium team's advance notice proved essential to seamlessly implementing the best practice plan, sheltering people waiting to enter the stadium while retaining a high level of security. The stadium opened flood gates normally used for egress, letting around a thousand people into sheltered areas on opposing sides of the stadium that were clearly separated from screened sections. From that state, security personnel began to screen visitors inside. During the 30-minute hold from the last strike, the stadium successfully screened the majority of the attendees in the cordoned off area, so by the time of the all-clear, security returned to normal operations—with no backlog.

Stadium Safety & Security

In addition to the CMA Fest incidents, Nissan Stadium has capitalized on the new capability for two football games and multiple other events, including the NFL Draft. Moreover, the service delivers helpful insight for the organization in other ways. Location-specific National Weather Service notifications, for example, help trainers and coaches to organize practices at the Titans' offsite training facility. Additionally, executives traveling with the team to other cities utilize the app to advise the team of any expected game delays and to inform logistics. With Baron weather intelligence, a variety of Titans decisions—from operations to coaching—benefit from accurate and up-to-date information.

Jimmy Stowers | Baron Services Inc.