Hurricanes and Playgrounds

Your playground was designed for normal wear and tear, and in most instances will weather the inclement weather just fine.  But there are a few things you can do prior to help it survive the storm, as well a few things to check on afterward.

Before the storm:

It goes without saying that anything loose around the playground area needs to be secured: trashcan lids, signage, et cetera.  Things that are loose now will certainly get worse during a storm.  Pay special attention to surrounding trees - by far the most common cause of playground damage is falling trees and limbs.  If that old oak is half dead, you might consider being proactive and dropping some limbs before Mother Nature does it for you.

If your playground has a freestanding or integrated fabric shade, you need to take it down following the manufacturer's recommendations.  While fabric shades are designed with some pretty high windloads in mind, they are simply not designed to hold up through hurricanes, nor are they designed to deflect branches, shingles and other flying debris common with high winds, which will often rip right through them.

After the storm:

Many times parks are situated in low lying areas which are prone to flooding.  If your playground was underwater, pay special attention to:

  • Footings around posts and end supports might be soft or have eroded. You may need to pull back the surfacing to inspect.  Note that wood playgrounds will often show rot BELOW the surfacing!
  • Moving components may have silted up. Rinse with fresh water to remove grit and lubricate if required - follow manufacturer's recommendations as some lubricants can actually damage components.
  • Nonmoving components may have loosened up! Check all fittings and connections to make sure they are still snug.
  • Rotationally molded plastic components , like slides, can actually fill with water which may distort the plastic over time. Check with the manufacturer first but one solution is to drill a small hole on the underside of the item to allow for drainage - some place not very accessible.
  • Flood waters in coastal areas can be salty. Flood waters everywhere can also include chemicals or even sewage that may have leaked during the storm.  It's a great idea to lightlypressure wash your structures to help minimize potential for rusting hardware and pay special attention to where kids might place their hands to keep things clean.

Surfacing:

Pay special attention to your surfacing - the majority of accidents are still due to falls to the ground. Of course remove branches and debris from your surfacing.  

  • While a lot of loose fills knit together and don't readily float, the current from flood waters can wash surfacing away, so take a moment and check the depth of surfacing.Remember CPSC guidelines require a minimum of 6" of rubber chips and 9" of wood chips or sand.  Your original installation might have included more - look for grade markers on your equipment to confirm depth as well.
  • Poured in place, rubber tiles and turf are typically porous. If your playground had standing water, it's not a bad idea to flush the surfacing to try and remove anything harmful.  Beware of using a pressure washer though, you may actually damage the surface.
  • Poured in place, tiles and turf are commonly built on a layer of compressed stone that may have shifted during the storm. If you feel voids as you inspect the playground, reach out to your supplier for solutions.  A loose base will eventually create bigger problems down the road, like cracks and tears.
  • Turf surfacing include an infill, which can be sand or encapsulated sand to help hold down the surfacing, prevent wrinkles and help the turf 'stand up.' You may need to add infill and brush out the surfacing to bring it back to life.  Tears at seams or pulling away from borders need to be repaired by your turf vendor.

Last, take plenty of pictures before you begin clean up!  You might need them for insurance claims and your vendors might need them to help you identify broken parts and find replacements.   Manufacturers and their sales agencies can help you with further issues - always get their recommendation first before trying your own repair.