EXPLAINING THE EVENT ALERT SYSTEM FOR RACES

Ever wondered about the colored flags you see at expos or aid stations? Here's what they mean.

DAVE MCGILLIVRAY, for Runner's World

Some races have "flag" systems, with different colored flags meant to symbolize different levels of danger. You see the flags at the expo and at water stops along the course. What exactly are these meant to represent?

The flags are part of the Event Alert System (EAS). The EAS was developed by the Chicago Event Management team after the 2007 Chicago Marathon, when temperatures soared into the high 80s and the decision was made to stop the race about 3.5 hours after it began. The team determined that if conditions became too dangerous to continue with the race, there needed to be an efficient way to communicate this information to all the participants and volunteers. 

The EAS is a color-coded classification that broadcasts the risk level of course conditions leading up to and on race day. The levels range from low (green) to moderate (yellow) to high (red) to extreme (black) based on a variety of factors. (See chart below for further explanation.) This system is mainly used to reflect weather conditions but can also be used to alert runners and volunteers of any possible race concern that may occur. 

Not every race currently uses the EAS—the Boston Marathon doesn't, yet—but more and more races adopt it each year. The key to its success is ensuring that all race participants understand it.

There are a few steps that can help make this happen. First, the race should have information about the EAS prominently displayed on its website. Next, organizers should email all participants during race week to inform them of the current EAS status and provide preparation tips based on advance weather forecasts. Once race weekend arrives, runners should receive EAS status updates via handouts at packet pickup, announcements over the expo loudspeakers, and flags displayed at the expo.

On race day, the current EAS status should be communicated via public address announcements and color-coded signs and/or flags at the start and finish areas and along the course at each hydration station and/or medical station.

Over time, this system will be an industry best practice. It may also assist in changing a runner's behavior or adjusting their pace on moderate to severe risk days.

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