Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=190002
Story Retrieval Date: 5/18/2013 6:52:05 AM CST
Dave Rivelli / MEDILL
The countdown to Marathon Sunday is closing quickly, and Chicago runners are carbing up, tapering down and refining their race plans.
Meet one man who is not running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon but still has more on his plate than an extra helping of spaghetti this week. Dr. George Chiampas has been medical director for the event since 2007--the hottest race day on record in which one runner died-- and was a consulting physician at the marathon six years prior to that. This year’s event is expected to draw more than 40,000 runners.
Chiampas is a clinical instructor and attending physician in emergency medicine at Northwestern University and the Feinberg School of Medicine. He spoke to Medill Reports about contingency plans for weather, the marathon’s Event Alert System and how participating runners can make his life a little easier on race day.
What kind of planning goes into an event like this?
It’s actually a year-long process. We take it from a medical perspective all the way to the operations team all year long, looking at innovative ways to respond to extremes that can occur on race day, whether those be heat or cold or something else. We also use the Shamrock Shuffle race in the spring to make sure we’re ready to go. That race has 30,000 runners, so it is another large event that gives us the opportunity to put all the pieces in place for a successful Marathon day.
What are your specific duties on race day?
I oversee roughly 1,200 to 1,400 medical volunteers, as well as a private ambulance company. I coordinate with all the city agencies in place on race day, so we have a unified command approach. That’s something we’ve done over the past four years, and it’s been tested with the temperatures we’ve had - both cold and warm - and it’s been effective. The approach basically brings all the agencies involved – the Chicago Police Department, Fire Department, Office of Emergency Management and Communications, all other operations and events staff, all volunteers, park districts - into one area where we can quickly communicate changes and utilize resources.
What’s the screening process for your medical volunteers?
They have to be licensed in their area of medicine, and we follow the same guidelines as any other healthcare provider. Most of them have done this many, many times before, which is a testament to them in that they volunteer their time on a long day, year after year. It shows operationally we do things right, and the volunteers respect and appreciate the event - we’re fortunate to have those resources.
How do you educate those volunteers to streamline race day processes?
We have those 1,200 or 1,400 medical volunteers who come in with different clinical backgrounds, and the marathon can be different than what they’re used to. So, we put together PowerPoint presentations that we send out to get everyone up to speed on the best practices and things they’ll see on race day. We also communicate to the team leaders who disseminate messaging to their race day staff. On the morning of the race, we also have some time for our teams to run through all types of scenarios.
How do you tweak the processes from year-to-year?
Two weeks after the marathon, we have a meeting every year to learn from the past event and discuss new and better things we can do in the next event. They’re usually little tweaks, since at this point we work at a pretty high level, and we have high expectations on us, so it’s mainly enhancing what we currently have in place. For example, the Event Alert System was enhanced in 2008, and it was something not done before then, but the way we’ve been able to maximize that system has been a definite positive tool for us.
What exactly does the Event Alert System do?
It’s a colored flag system that’s not simply meant for weather but for any sort of incident or situation that could occur on race day. Weather is the easiest example, though, like this weekend is supposed to be sunny and a little mild, but we never know about lightning or thunder until the day of the race. Those are scenarios we have to be prepared for, and we have to communicate that information to the runners, so that’s why that system is in place. We educate both the volunteers and runners in advance so they are aware of the system and educated on it. Especially for the runners, when you’re in the heat of running the race, it’s a good reminder for you to stay aware of what’s going on around you.
You took over in 2007, which was the hottest race day on record and resulted in one death and many hospitalizations – have new contingency plans been put in place following that year?
In 2007, we made the decision to stop the race, and I think that was a correct decision, in that we set a precedent in regard to protocol during extreme heat. As far as hospitalizations go, we’ve had them in years past, we’ll have them this year, just like every year. The event is obviously concerned about the health and safety of the runners, and that’s really why those hospitalizations occur, because runners are identified who need that assistance.
Having been a consulting physician and now director, what lessons have you learned?
I’ve learned that runners are a pretty resilient breed, and I definitely appreciate each individual runner now. Each runner is bringing a different perspective and medical history and cause to the race, and I’ve grown to appreciate that aspect. Most importantly, though, it’s made me appreciate this great city – Chicago is one of the greatest cities in the world, and it happens to be home to one of the greatest marathons in the world.
What reminders do you have to the runners to help make your job easier on race day?
Specifically for this year, realize that you’re going to be running in temperatures of mid-60’s to 70’s. Some individuals come out in pants or tights or sweatshirts, but they should be prepared to come out in shorts and a shirt instead. Those are the kinds of little things that can make a big difference. Also stick to your plan, because what’s worked in the last four or five months of training, should work for the marathon itself. Drink to thirst, and once you get there, focus on communication during the race.