Across the nation, stadiums of all kinds—publicly and privately owned, major league, minor league, and scholastic venues—are being used to support COVID-19 response. So far this has been primarily through repurposing their large and accessible parking lots as drive-through testing centers. In the case of CenturyLink Field in Seattle, its adjoining, enclosed Event Center has become a field hospital for non-coronavirus patients. And as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues evaluating sites for alternate care sites as part of the federal response, stadiums will remain in the mix. This paper offers planning considerations for stadium and venue operators when supporting any disaster response operation, and in this case, the response to COVID-19.
Before discussing use of your facility with local, state, and federal officials, prepare. Have internal discussions on your ability and willingness to support emergency operations. These discussions should include not just senior leadership and/or venue ownership, but also operations, logistics, financial management, and human resources staff. Understanding your capabilities and garnering commitment from league and stadium officials early will make your discussions with government authorities more productive. Here are some initial items for consideration:
|•||What capabilities can we offer in support of this effort? Your venue offers a plethora of logistic and support services – everything from large spaces to support response and recovery logistical operations, to food vendor services, bottled water and paper products, and potentially even a temporary labor force.|
|•||What is our overall risk tolerance? What are the insurance and liability coverages that need to be in place to protect our staff, our venue, and the grounds themselves? Are there only certain services we can/are willing to offer in support of the response and recovery efforts? In the case of COVID-19, are you willing to open your venue to the potentially sick or infected? Know up front what you are willing to provide and support as well as what you will not support.|
|•||What scheduling considerations do we have? Should scheduled events be cancelled or postponed? What coordination efforts need to be made with league officials or event coordinators? In the case of the response to COVID-19, most professional sports leagues and athletic conferences have not determined when they will resume operations; cancellations or postponements of large non-athletic events like concerts are being announced four to six weeks in advance of their scheduled dates.|
|•||Should we establish a planning task force? Consider establishing an internal planning task force within your organization for both current operations and demobilization/reconstitution efforts. This will help operations run smoothly, keep stadium owners and operators informed of key initiatives, and support coordination and collaboration efforts with local, state, and federal authorities.|
Clarify and Negotiate Terms
Once you have prepared, you will be better able to clarify and negotiate with government authorities on their specific requests. There are a few basic questions you should ask if authorities request to use your facility for disaster response and recovery operations:
|•||What involvement do you need from our staff and/or vendors? More specifically, how will you, as the stadium operator, be able to monitor and oversee activities to protect your venues' interests? How will you grant and control access to the facility? Who will be responsible for security and traffic control? What services (such as utilities, lighting, and food service) are expected from the venue?|
|•||What missions or tasks will be performed at our venue? Missions will vary from venue to venue. You will want to understand the basic parameters for what will happen on your property. For instance, if part of the mission will be to run a temporary morgue, you may need to consider impact to your venue/team brand and economic losses that may occur as a result.|
|•||How will staff and/or vendors, if needed, be protected? What precautions will be taken to ensure the health and safety of your personnel, especially if they are assisting the operation in some way.|
|•||What are the potential liabilities, and who assumes them? Activities are taking place on your premises and based on your risk tolerance analysis, you will need to be prepared to have these discussions with local, state, and federal authorities. Be sure any liability for these activities falls to those undertaking or overseeing them.|
|•||What costs are being covered, and how? It is important to know not just who is footing the bills, but what are their payment terms and documentation requirements.|
|•||What legal or formal documentation is needed? Will Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs), Vendor Agreements, or other documentation be provided for review?|
|•||How long is the operation expected to last? If you have prepared, you will be aware up front of potential conflicts with scheduled events or potential dates for resumption of league/conference operations. Yet be aware that the government's answer may be an estimate. Additionally, you may want to inquire if your facility is to be used for 24/7 operations or during limited days/hours during the response and recovery period.|
|•||How will incidental damages, breakdown, and cleanup be handled? You want to ensure that emergency operations do not delay your plans for the return to normal operations. This involves clarifying responsibilities for repairing or compensating for damages, removing items brought to your venue (or agreeing to store some items for future emergency use), and cleaning/sanitizing stadium areas as necessary. Getting some agreements upfront on what close-out procedures will look like can save you time and money when operations are complete.|
Look Ahead to Normal Operations
Getting your stadium back in the same condition it was before emergency operations started is just one part of getting back to normal. A recent article provides a thorough review of steps any business should consider in planning its return to normal operations in the wake of COVID-19. Your stadium may already be engaged in this planning. If so, integrate demobilization planning for the emergency operations with your broader recovery and reconstitution planning. If your stadium has been hosting emergency operations associated with COVID-19 response, you have added incentive to explore how to assure staff, vendors, athletes, and team officials, and especially spectators that your stadium is ready for safe “normal” operations. Creating both the perception and reality of safety may go beyond the cleanup of the emergency operation itself to instituting new standard procedures for keeping the facility clean or sanitized, managing access to the facility (e.g., temperature checks or handing out hand sanitizer to patrons), and other measures in the future. There may be opportunities for your organization to learn from emergency operations conducted at your stadium in preparing for the new normal.
Prepare for the Next Emergency
You will also want to prepare for the next emergency. COVID-19 has raised the profile of stadiums and large venues, which have much to offer their communities in emergencies of all types. In addition to their use as field hospitals and drive-through testing centers now, stadiums and their parking lots have in the past been used or considered for use as shelters, points of distribution to get emergency supplies or medicines to people, and staging areas for responders and their vehicles and equipment.
If your stadium is used for some aspect of COVID-19 response, capture key observations of the preparation and planning efforts, as well as the actual operations themselves and clean up functions. What worked well and what could have gone better? What mistaken assumptions were made? Use the lessons to improve existing memoranda of understanding—or to create one where no formal agreements were in place before.
If your stadium is not used this time, any internal preparations you made need not go to waste. As the crisis eventually winds down, consider seeking out community emergency management authorities to revisit—or negotiate, if you do not already have an agreement—how and under what terms your venue could best be used to support emergency response and recovery operations in future disasters. A key principle of disaster response and recovery operations is that all disasters are locally executed, state managed, and federally supported. Your stadium or venue is a community asset and can play a key role in helping your community save lives, meet basic human needs, and heal in the immediate aftermath of any disaster.