Don Verdiani had been in the business of handling pop-up emergencies long enough to recognize that things were about to go wrong over Noxontown Pond in Middletown, Delaware, during a Diamond State Masters Regatta a few years ago.
"A storm came over the trees, just popped up without warning, and it basically blacked out the lake," Verdiani recalled. "We might have had 100 people on it at the time." The suddenness of the storm left no chance for anyone to get boats off the water or athletes to safety. And there was no plan in place to deal with what could have happened.
The storm passed as quickly as it blew in and, fortunately, no one was hurt and no equipment was badly damaged. After a check of the lake to make sure everything was safe again, the regatta resumed.
But Verdiani was shaken and resolved to never have it happen again at the regatta he has been volunteering at for 15 years. "It was terrifying," he said. "We knew what was coming when we saw it and what the potential for damage and injury was."
Don Verdiani at the Diamond State Masters Regatta
Fast forward to the weekend of July 22-23 and the 2017 Howard M. Smith Diamond State Masters Regatta. A storm was looming somewhere in the distance with a potential to strike late Saturday afternoon.
This time, Verdiani was prepared. There would be no weather ambush.
A quick call to the National Weather Service's local advisers confirmed that there was a chance the storm would hit and pinpointed the exact time it would likely happen if the conditions stayed the same. The regatta had a plan in place that Verdiani kicked into gear.
The schedule was moved up, the competitors and spectators were notified, equipment was tied down and secured and safety was ensured. The storm never came. It moved in a different direction.
But Verdiani, satisfied with how the system he began years before was working, continued his constant communication with the National Weather Center and held his watch on the sky. A second storm was predicted to arrive just after racing ended. This one did strike.
And again, Verdiani, an emergency management expert for Westtown Township and Chester County, Pa., and Assistant Director of Information and Planning for the American Red Cross, was on the case. No surprises, no damage, no issues.
For Verdiani, telling the story of the surprise storm and the preparedness action plan he created for the regatta is not about retelling a past harrowing tale. It is about letting other regatta planners know there is a better way to handle late running a safe regatta with more than just looking at the sky or watching weather radar.
While the summer racing schedule for July is over, there are many regattas planned to take place in areas where summer storms are frequent and sometimes "pop up" unpredicted.
"If just one regatta planner picks up on this, it will be time well spent," Verdiani said.
Developing the Plan
A multi-faceted plan begins by enlisting the help of local emergency services.
"Always start with your local emergency management group," Verdiani. He said that is usually a government agency run by a local community or county organization.
"They are the professionals with the connections," he said. "Tell them you are planning an event and give them a good amount of lead time so they can put the event on their watch list and monitor the weather as it is happening."
From there - and with the local agency's help - establish open lines of communication with the National Weather Service centers and local weather advisory offices. "We have it so I have permission to call them if I see something or they call or text me when they see something."
And, Verdiani said, have an "action plan," that encompasses all possible emergency situations, one that clearly defines the roles of everyone involved including race officials and participants and communicate the plan before and during the event.
"It's one thing to have people watching the weather. But it doesn't do any good if there is no action plan in place."
To see the plan used at the 2017 Howard M. Smith Diamond State Masters Regatta go here.