First responders marshal forces for scorching Husker gameday

2013-08-30T03:50:00Z First responders marshal forces for scorching Husker gamedayBy JONATHAN EDWARDS / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

A hotter, more perfect storm is brewing.

Tens of thousands of Husker fans will flood Lincoln on Saturday, and about 92,000 of them will pack Memorial Stadium for 2013's first Nebraska football game, just as temperatures roll off their expected peak of 96 degrees.

Forecasters are including at least a small chance of a thunderstorm.

“It's gonna be a scorcher, and we've gotta be prepared to deal with that,” Lincoln Public Safety Director Tom Casady said.

University and public safety officials, fearing a redux of last year's home opener, warned fans to drink water, wear light-colored clothing and lay off the booze to avoid heat stroke.

Nearly 300 fans suffered that fate a year ago when the Huskers kicked off their 2012 season against Southern Miss in temperatures that hit 95.

Rescuers declared the day a mass casualty, calling in crews from Waverly, Southeast and Southwest Rural Fire districts to tackle the onslaught of patients. They treated most of them at the stadium, but they took 15 to the hospital.

“It really stretches you,” Casady said.

So officials from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department, Lincoln Fire & Rescue, Nebraska athletics and the Red Cross spent the past month getting ready, said UNL Assistant Police Chief Charlotte Evans.

The Athletic Department also bought a new communication system that allows UNL police, Red Cross volunteers and stadium workers to monitor what everyone else is doing as they're doing it.

Before, each group tracked what their own people were up to, they but didn't know what other agencies were doing and couldn't look at the big picture until after the game, said Susan Epps, executive director of the Cornhusker Chapter of the Red Cross.

Now, Evans will command a gameday force of 500 that includes police officers, medics, volunteers and ushers, and she'll have the real-time information she needs to, let's say, deploy extra medics to treat a rash of heat stroke victims in East Stadium or more police to quell an incident in the student section.

“It’s such a leap forward,” Epps said. “That's going to make a huge 'difference.”

On the front end, officials are prodding fans to take care of themselves.

University officials are allowing fans to bring into the stadium commercial water bottles -- such as Dasani and Aquafina, but leave your hard plastic Nalgene bottle at home -- that hold 20 ounces or less. The bottles must be unopened and unfrozen when ticketholders go through the gates.

They're also setting up two mobile drinking fountains at the north and south ends of the stadium to supplement the permanent ones, UNL spokesman Steve Smith said.

And fans still can buy bottled water from vendors for $3 each, he said.

Last year's opener started in the middle of the afternoon, whereas Saturday's game kicks off at 7 in the evening. So the sun won't beat down on fans for nearly as long, but the later start will give them time to drink alcoholic and sugary beverages before the game.

“Those things are going to hurt them,” Evans said.

The sun will shine on the biggest crowd Memorial Stadium's ever seen. The East Stadium expansion added about 6,000 seats since last season, bringing capacity to 92,000.

Evans said she hopes fans take care of themselves, but if they don't, she thinks her people are better equipped to help them than a year ago.

“We can put a huge dent in what happened last year.”

Reach Jonathan Edwards at 402-473-7395 or jedwards@journalstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/LJSedwards.

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