Feature Article - August 2011
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Dealing With Disaster

Disaster Plans Are Vital for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facilities

By Deborah L. Vence

In addition to camps, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) developed a disaster preparedness list that parks and recreation can use to prepare for a disaster.

First, make known and make available the various resources that park and recreation departments have for disaster response (recreation centers, public spaces, equipment, personnel, public restrooms, campsites, etc.).

"Parks and recreation organizations in any community need to be a player in any disaster preparedness plan. There are a variety of resources with parks and recreation. [They can serve] as shelters for people who have lost housing," said Bill Beckner, research manager for the NRPA. "It may serve as shelters for people who are preparing for a tornado.

"If you are talking about a park in the community and you have a microburst and blow-down of trees, on the property, it's looking at all the possibilities and who has the resources to provide and help," he said. "If you can get those kinds of emergency evacuation routes, disaster locations, identify it early so that people know them."

Next, be sure to maintain a complete inventory of physical assets associated with park and recreation agencies.

"You can't maintain what you don't know about. The very first thing for a reasonable maintenance management system is to have that inventory," Beckner said.

Third, be sure to plan for recreation relief in the instance of a disaster.

"There is the element [where] if you have all these people who are in emotional distress, they are all camped out in the gym. There are 50 families. What do you do? And, if you have pools, and all these different types of facilities, you go into another mode of operation of people who have been affected. That should be part of your internal planning," he said.

For example, people in New Orleans who were affected by Hurricane Katrina ended up having to stay at the Louisiana Superdome.

"It was a humid dome. There wasn't anybody to plan for the kinds of disasters that they had. [There wasn't a] plan for the magnitude of what was coming," Beckner said. "The levees were not built to withstand that much water."

You also need to develop and improve upon existing readiness plans for park and recreation personnel and the communities that they serve. Such plans must include preparations for natural disasters, terrorist attacks and biological events (avian flu, West Nile virus, etc.).