Delay of Game
Storm creates 90-minute, soggy wait
Severe weather caused an almost 90-minute delay in the East Carolina University – University of Texas at El Paso football game Sept. 29 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Attendees were evacuated at 8 p.m. when weather radar showed a thunderstorm eight miles from the stadium. Within 20 minutes, almost 50,000 people had filed out of the seating area and the football teams and officials were off the field.
Because there’s nowhere near the stadium to shelter 50,000 people, fans were advised to exit to their vehicles, if possible, during the initial announcements. After several minutes, attendees were advised to shelter in place under the stadium or in Minges Coliseum, where approximately 3,000 fans waited out the storm.
Lt. Chris Sutton with the ECU Police Department estimated 10,000 fans returned to the stadium after the delay to see the conclusion of the game, which the Pirates won, 28-18.
“The planning and the preparation were there. I feel like the system worked well,” he said. “Maybe some fine-tuning in the future, but the system worked.”
In the hours leading up the 7 p.m. kickoff, ECU Police, representatives from Athletics and Event One staffing along with the head Conference-USA official for the game met to discuss an action plan in case weather forced the evacuation of the field and stadium.
Sutton said he believes this is the first time that Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium has been evacuated.
When asked by a reporter on Monday morning what grade he would give the evacuation, Sutton replied, “an A.”
“Not just police but the event staff, the Athletics Department, the officials, and the coaching staffs, but everybody was responsive,” he said.
Bill Koch, associate vice chancellor for environmental health and campus safety, was at the game and said he was pleased with how the evacuation went. “Our response went according to plan,” he said. “We monitor the weather throughout every game, and especially when there’s the chance for severe weather.”
Koch added, “The plan is based on knowing severe weather is coming and communicating with the officials on the field. We want to give enough warning so people can get to their cars and others can shelter in place.”
Sutton reported that emergency medical personnel at the game responded to 11 calls; none were related to the evacuation.
“If we ever have to do this again, the decision and the moves made are to provide a safe environment for the players and the fans at the stadium,” Sutton said.