Two Weeks, Two Evacuations
Officials weigh in on evacuation procedures at stadium on MSU gamedays
There’s a realm of history wrapped up within the concrete walls of Spartan Stadium.
During the course of its 90 years of existence, the venue has played host to exciting plays on the gridiron, melodic tunes out of the mouths of rock stars and the arctic tundra of one of the world’s most famous hockey games. But through all of the moments spread across more than nine decades, the stadium never has been evacuated.
After two football games in two weeks, Spartan Stadium now has a new piece of history, calling for evacuations in both games.
The threat of severe weather, including the potential for lightning strikes, caused MSU police and campus officials to alert fans to evacuate the stadium during the Aug. 30 home opener Western Michigan and again prior to the Sept. 7 game against South Florida — a notion which Athletics Director Mark Hollis said was warranted for both games.
“Until you actually get to go through the process of having 70,000 leave their seats and try and find safe quarters, it’s always going to be a challenge,” Hollis said. “There’s things we pick up and learn to improve, and Saturday’s was not, although it worked out very good, it wasn’t a strategy to see if those improvements worked.”
According to the National Weather Service, MSU currently is one of five Big Ten schools and 138 national StormReady Universities, which have a partnership with the National Weather Service intended to provide information to universities that allows them to incorporate the information into their emergency plans.
“We work with them to make sure they’re aware of impending weather and they’re aware of multiple means of monitoring that and communicating that,” said Jim Maczko, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids. “That gets incorporated in their emergency plans and that’s on their side of things.”
Although MSU police Capt. Penny Fischer said officers annually have prepared for the possibility of evacuation for the past decade, she had yet to see it happen until this fall.
“When we evacuate, there is very well a credible threat of harm to people,” Fischer said. “We don’t wait to see the first bolt of lightning to know that it’s not safe. There’s not a lot of room for error.”
Fischer said Spartan Stadium was sufficiently evacuated within 20-30 minutes. But once students were asked to evacuate a second time at Saturday’s game, police were met with resistance.
“The whole student section was chanting, and no one wanted to leave,” human biology freshman Carrie Blackwell said.
“I didn’t want to be the one to leave first and have everyone yelling at me, but I could see it was going to rain.”
As many fans remained despite the warning to evacuate, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon came up with the idea to send out a well-respected voice to sway them in the right direction.
Enter men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo.
Upon strolling across the field to a raucous cheer from the remaining fans, Izzo spoke to the student fanbase, urging them to respect the university and football program by following directions. And if they met his expectations, Izzo promised he would sit along with them in the student section once play resumed.
The remaining fans poured to the exits and many set up camp in the concourse of Spartan Stadium until the evacuation was complete.
Others left for Wells Hall or other locations outside the stadium before returning.
Facing imminent danger, Hollis said Izzo was the consensus choice to serve as MSU’s voice of reason, given his strong rapport with students and fans.
“That’s something where you have to determine who will those who are in harm’s way listen to. And in that case, it’s Tom Izzo,” Hollis said. “You know, when Tom’s not here, we’re going to have to figure out somebody else.”