It's hurricane season, so let's be prudent and cautious and take the time to explain one of the less pleasant decisions we have to make – when and how to decide to close a park for severe weather, your safety being paramount!
Tornado damage at Staunton River State Park April 2011
From the first hint that a hurricane or significant weather event is heading our way, Virginia Department of Emergency Management schedules conference calls for Federal, State and Local officials and major utility providers to discuss preparedness for the storm.
From our perspective, the safety of our visitors is of paramount concern and Virginia State Parks has an official policy that helps us decide when it is prudent to close our facilities. In other words, when we decide we need to make our overnight and day guests leave the park. We do not make the decision lightly, but you can see with the policy, below, that we have well defined parameters for making that call.
The Park Manager or the highest ranking employee physically present on site (not necessarily scheduled for duty) upon determining that unsafe conditions exist, may close any or all facilities or any part of a facility until that condition no longer exists.
The State Parks Director or his designee shall order the closure of all facilities under the following conditions:
a. A Park will be closed to the public whenever the park is part of an areas declared to be under a “Hurricane Watch” by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
b. A park will be closed to the public whenever the National Hurricane Center (NHC) of NOAA has determined that there is a greater than a twenty percent (20%) chance of fifty knot or higher winds. The cabins and campground will be closed and guests compelled to leave (see sheltering) when this condition and probability is projected anytime in the subsequent seventy-two (72) hours
c. A park will be closed to the public whenever the National Hurricane Center (NHC) of NOAA has determined that there is a greater than fifty percent (50%) chance of thirty-four knot or higher winds (the tropical storm force). The cabins and campgrounds will be closed and guests compelled to leave (see sheltering) when this condition and probability is projected anytime in the subsequent seventy-two (72) hours.
d. A park or any portion of that park within an area projected to be inundated will be closed to the public twenty-four hours in advance of when local river level forecasts project the inundation.
Closure at this level of this level of threat is done with the understanding that the public’s presence in a State Park area is far more discretionary than that of local residents. Compelling their departure at an earlier stage of a threat minimizes their potential to complicate or even add to the congestion associated with a general evacuation of an area at a later stage of a threat. Further, their early departure provides staff an opportunity to concentrate on safety of resident staff and their families and facility protection.
The above safety thresholds are not intended to limit the authority of the State Park Directory or his designee to close facilities when other contributing factors make that facility unsafe in his judgment.
Our official call to close a park or facilities is the trigger for when we waive collection fees. Prior to that determination, guests are free to cancel using our standard cancelation policy. You can always check out current conditions on the NOAA weather site.
Sometimes our guests have been upset that we have closed the park and sent them away from a place to stay with nowhere for them to go. However, our decision is always based on our determination that it is UNSAFE to stay in the park under the forecasted conditions. Our goal is to provide the most accurate and advance notification within reason and to notify customers in advance of their arrival whenever possible. It is important that guests provide us with email addresses or multiple contact phone numbers so we can reach them in advance of their departure.
To help get the information about the park closings to customers without the need for everyone to call our Reservation line, we have instituted a new emergency bulletin system. If there is urgent information like the whole par closure or specific facility closures, there will be a brown box close to the top of a park’s webpage (See the brown section at the top of the image below) with the “Click here to read an urgent message about this park.” If you click that link you will be directed to the page with the current information.
We hope the new alert system will enable our visitors to know about any possible closings or issues that may impact their overnight stay or day visit before they leave their house.
The last thing we ever want to do is ruin someone’s vacations or park visit, especially since some of these trips planned eleven months in advance. But there is nothing like a tree falling through your tent or cabin to do just that! Not to mention potential life threatening events. And, yes the forecasts can be wrong but our intent is always to err of the side of caution when it comes to your safety!
Virginia State Parks website is found here.