As the first day of summer makes its way into the rearview mirror, the mercury continues to rise. Coast to coast, the temperatures are well into the nineties and the humidity rivals that of Atlantis. This tells us one thing: it’s air show season again.
Hot and humid days tell us quite a bit more than the probability of an air show. As we enter into the dog days of summer, it’s important to remember that heat and humidity can impact air show safety. Fatigue and dehydration are just a couple of issues that the heat of summer brings to the air show environment. Fortunately, being aware of these issues is half of the battle, and when addressed by both performer and organizers alike, the result can be a dramatically safer air show.
The hot and muggy weather at your show is taxing to both spectators and performers. The human body burns more energy trying to maintain a cooler temperature and, as a result, has less energy to spare. This fatigue can compound a very complex task, such as flying aerobatics, and steps should be taken to help the body retain its energy. Keeping performers indoors, in air conditioning and in shaded areas is the best defense for heat fatigue and its negative side effects.
Behind the crowd line, the impact of summer weather can be equally insidious. And, from an event organizer’s perspective, it can produce public safety problems. From sunburn, dehydration and heat exhaustion to air-to-ground lightning strikes during summer thunderstorms, your spectators are at considerably more risk from weather-related problems than they ever will be from aircraft-related problems. Your emergency response plans should pay at least as much attention to these risks as they do to flight safety concerns.
Dehydration is more likely to occur in the summer months as the body uses more and more of its water reserves for cooling itself. This increase in sweating without properly replenishing one’s fluids will cause the blood to thicken and become resistant to circulation. This reduced circulation has a direct relation to a reduced G tolerance for performers. Remember to keep your performers over exposed to bottled water, and performers should not feel bashful in asking for something to drink.
Out on the ramp, dehydration can be an even more serious problem for the viewing public. Many of your spectators are unaccustomed to spending many hours outside, in the heat, with little or no shade. They may not be familiar with the dangers or symptoms of dehydration. To avoid a public health disaster at your show, you must take steps to educate them and make it easy for them to stay hydrated. Bottled water sales are an increasingly important component of concession sales, but shows all over the country have learned the hard way that they must also make other resources available to help keep people hydrated.
It is the nature of outdoor summer events like air shows to occasionally be subject to severe weather. Developing contingency plans for these scenarios should be a part of your pre-event planning. With any luck, you won’t have to execute that plan this year, but it’s essential to have that plan ready to roll should the need arise.