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Evacuation of festival passes test

| Monday, May 14, 2012, 11:33 a.m.

Officials considered the evacuation of the Westmoreland County Arts & Heritage Festival a success, even though the drill had never been used in the festival's 27-year run.

Concerned about the possibility of high winds and lightning hitting the area, Twin Lakes Park officials decided to shut down the event and begin the rarely used evacuation drill. Close to 10,000 people left the event 6 &*#189; hours early.

'Everything worked out really well,' said Donnie Gutherie, first-year director of the festival. 'It was surprising.'

The evacuation, which began at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, took about an hour to complete.

Park officials received reports indicating severe weather would hit the park about 2:30 p.m. At that point, a warning was sent over the public address system. Soon after, police prevented any new entries to the park and then began busing people back to their cars.

Members of the festival board have emergency management meetings to determine the best way to evacuate the park, but they never had to use the plan before, according to Gutherie.

'It was a wonderful test,' he said. 'It really did work.'

Malcolm Sias, program coordinator for Westmoreland County Parks, agreed with Gutherie's assessment of the evacuation.

'The park was totally packed,' he said. 'The plan worked extremely well.'

Sias said stages of the drill had been used before but never a full evacuation.

Some of the vendors were hesitant to believe the severe weather warnings because it was so nice out earlier, he said.

Gutherie said that although most of the vendors were upset with the weather, there weren't many complaints with park officials.

'They did a good job,' said Carol Kara, a vendor from Perryopolis. 'They gave us plenty of warning.'

Her husband, John agreed: 'We lost business ... but everybody got out of here in one piece.'

Gutherie wanted to thank everyone at the festival for staying calm and apologized for the inconvenience.

'We just wanted to make sure (everyone was) safe,' he said.

Gutherie had another reason to be disappointed with Sunday's weather - it was his 26th birthday.

'Next year it will be sunny all four days,' he predicted.

The Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival will be held July 4-7, 2002.

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