AUBURN – The events that transpired in the third quarter of Auburn’s 2022 football season-opening victory were all by painstaking design.
As the storms galloped into eastern Alabama, the Lee County Emergency Management Agency monitored the distance of lightning from Jordan-Hare Stadium, where an announced attendance of 84,562 saw the action on the field, more focused on who he would be Auburn’s quarterback for the rest of the season.
Soon all those fans would be asked to evacuate the metal stands and the entire stadium. Lightning within eight miles triggered a chain of communication that ended with AU “Unified Command” activating weather delay procedures. Campus buildings surrounding the stadium were opened for spectator shelter when a downpour occurred, and the stadium was open for re-entry when 30 minutes passed with no lightning detected within radius.
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Campus officials who specialize in emergency management oversee everything from severe weather to safety from a possible bomb threat on game day. Football Saturdays are Auburn’s biggest events. Each of them is planned weeks in advance.
“Our security is layered in the sense that we have a lot of responsibility and we look at everything from the ground up,” said AU executive director of campus security Kelvin King, who previously spent 27 years with the FBI. “We look from the ground up to the sky… Anything that might affect the game day experience.”
Local, state, and federal agencies are involved, with the Auburn Police Department, Opelika Police Department, and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office all providing security personnel. The Lee County EMA can supply equipment and other state resources that the university does not have.
How many people are involved in the field and behind the scenes?
“Hundreds,” Auburn Assistant Police Chief Clarence Stewart said. “I can literally say hundreds.”
“I would say less than a thousand,” King said.
As the lightning plan went into effect last week, Auburn stepped up another one of its weather plans while also keeping an eye out for more serious security with campus bomb threats in the news this summer.
Why Auburn created a more comprehensive heat plan for football games in 2022
Floyd Johnson was a Big Ten guy before Auburn. His previous jobs were in Michigan and Iowa.
Midwestern heat is one thing. The humidity of the south is another.
Especially considering the way Auburn’s schedule lined up in his first full year as director of emergency management.
“You look at how hot we’ve been over the summer, it’s been pretty hot, and then you look at five games in a row in the hottest part of the season. Hey, that’s got to be our priority. Mitigate that threat.”
His team decided to increase the resources available to fans. Previously, two cooling stations were available at football games. There are now eight, with five in the Jordan-Hare Stadium concourse and three outside the building. Cooling areas include water fill stations, mist fans and spaces for fans to rest in the shade if they need a break from sun exposure inside the stadium. Cooling zones will be used when the heat index is expected to exceed 90 degrees. Fans have required medical attention in the past.
“The sheer number of people that show up at that stadium and how packed it is,” Stewart said, “you wouldn’t believe the number of calls we get for (heat-related illness).”
“People will be able to sit back and cool off,” Johnson said. “The idea is to help people take matters into their own hands and give them the tools they need to prevent those injuries.”
Fend off bomb threats on football game days
In July, Auburn received a bomb threat at its nursing school. It turned out to be fake, but risk is always on the minds of security specialists, especially on busy Saturdays.
Administrators are understandably hesitant to share too many details of the security plan for fear of compromise, but measures used by law enforcement include K-9 units and air monitoring teams. Johnson leads simulation exercises with security personnel and hires actors to participate in more specific drills.
The tricky balance is keeping in mind that fake threats do happen, and causing panic among 80,000 fans is also dangerous.
“There are people who investigate those threats. So the FBI has taken the lead,” King said. “I have assigned a single field office as a point of contact to investigate collegiate bomb threats. We are going to listen to what the intelligence is and still make the best possible decision with the information we have. Do we do it in a vacuum? Absolutely not.” .”