Evacuation plan to be created for Hart Park

Published on: 10/19/2011

If a tornado was spotted near Wauwatosa and the crowds needed to be evacuated quickly from Hart Park, where would attendees go for safety?

The Muellner Building likely won't provide enough space to handle a full stadium of spectators during an athletic event or a city celebration.

"I'd love to just open the Tosa Room (the space used for curling in the winter and rented for weddings with up to 450 guests the rest of the year) and tell people to come inside, but I don't think they'd all fit," said Mary Clare Shuller, parks department secretary.

Fire officials met with the city's Parks and Forestry Board on Tuesday to talk about creating a critical incident management plan. A binder containing such a plan is rumored to exist, but if so, it has disappeared, Fire Chief Rob Ugaste said.

Upping the ante citywide

He's been working on emergency management since taking over the helm of the Fire Department in spring and has found lapses. In the past, an employee handled planning as a side duty to his regular job. Critical incident planning will now become a priority headed by Deputy Chief Bill Rice.

"We're kind of heading into unchartered territory for Wauwatosa," Rice said, adding that fire officials will meet with the schools and over time likely will create plans for public and some private facilities such as the library or the medical campus.

Rice doesn't want people to panic, because "the Fire Department has excellent response plans in the case of an emergency" and backup from neighboring communities. However, the city doesn't have resources to send public safety workers to every activity occurring in the city, and on rare occasions problems arise.

The idea is to find someone who will be on the scene from start to finish who can make the decision that a situation could be dangerous and put a plan into action, including calling 911, Rice said.

Starting at Hart Park

The most frequent emergencies that occur in a park are incidents of lightning strikes followed within 30 seconds of thunder claps and tornado sirens.

"The thing that taxes us most as a department is weather," Rice said.

Lightning can result in structure fires, people need rescuing from vehicles during floods and more traffic accidents tend to occur during bad weather.

An emergency coordinator, responsible for determining when evacuation is necessary and communicating how to get people to safety, should be selected for events in the park, fire officials said. The city could purchase lightning detectors that set off sirens when the weather becomes severe.

Parks staff would be the most likely event emergency coordinators, board President Tom Ertel said. Athletic directors and coaches want to play games, and they might find it hard to call a game early, board members agreed.

A committee will be formed with staff from the parks, police and fire departments and board members to start creating a critical incident plan for the park.

Planning for emergencies becomes more important as the number of people and activities in the park increases. Athletic competitions at the stadium, concerts at the Rotary Performance Pavilion and a new playground going in have contributed to that influx, Ertel said.

The topic is timely following two September evacuations of the University of Notre Dame football stadium due to severe weather. In those cases, the university had a plan and large facilities to handle a large number of people, Ugaste said.