Stampede official says staff dedication helps recovery

The designation 101 identifies a basic lesson or application, but Stampede 101 was anything but basic.

Fourteen days before the 101st Calgary Stampede was set to begin last summer, the most extensive flood in Alberta history flooded the grounds, part of the city and a large area of southern Alberta.

However, Stampede 101 was held “come hell or high water,” as officials proclaimed. After thousands of man hours and round-the-clock cleanup and construction effort, 1.1 million people attended the July event, 300,000 fewer than the centennial Stampede of 2012.

Jim Laurendeau, director of Stampede park and facility services, told the story of flood and recovery to a Lethbridge Exhibition Park crowd Jan. 30. Afterward, he had advice.

“Number one is preparedness,” he said about lessons learned.

“Be ready. Practice.”

He said Stampede staff regularly discussed various crisis scenarios that could affect the event, such as a barn fire or midway ride collapse. Flooding wasn’t one of the examples he re-called discussing, but emergency plans were modified to fit the need.

“Practicing is the first thing. The second thing is ownership,” said Laurendeau.

“We work really hard to not de-motivate people at the Stampede, and have them feel that ownership.”

Dedication of staff members be-came evident during early flood damage mitigation efforts and the extensive cleanup that came later.

“The third thing is insurance. I hate to say it, but at the end of the day you really need to pay attention to that piece.”

He said losses of $52.3 million have been tallied, and reconstruction is only 50 percent complete.

Stampede 101 was made possible largely through temporary measures, but one acre of the park was lost to erosion and a bridge that used to span the river won’t be rebuilt until next year.

The 1957 Big Four building, a fixture on the grounds, is expected to be back in commission in March. Its 10-foot deep basement, plus another three feet of the ground floor, was filled with water at the flood’s peak.

At one point, fish were swimming in its lobby, said Laurendeau.

The chuck wagon track, rodeo infield and stage sustained extensive damage, as did the entire park. When the waters receded, video showed the extent of debris, soil and filth left behind.

However, Laurendeau said there were only momentary doubts that the 101st running of “the greatest outdoor show on earth” would go on.

“The only sort of crisis of faith would have happened the second full day that the water had still not gone down even an inch. It stayed up there for 24 plus hours,” he said.

“That was tough.”

Stampede officials announced the show would run, “come hell or high water,” but only after they determined that Calgarians supported the idea.

A few months earlier, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg had been criticized for suggesting the city’s famous marathon would go ahead in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Citizens there were outraged, and the event was later cancelled.

“We pride ourselves in being really connected with our community, so unlike the (New York) example that I gave, where it might be seen as a sporting event for a small group of people, our organization, I think, has a little deeper roots in our community and we’re able to talk to our community informally and be able to gauge that,” said Laurendeau.

A T-shirt campaign, featuring the “come hell or high water” expression, sold 160,000 shirts, and proceeds of $2.1 million were donated to the Red Cross to help flood victims.

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