Playground Equipment After the Storm

As communities in Florida begin to recover after Hurricane Irma, we want to share some advice on inspecting your playground equipment after the storm. Parks and recreational facilities are not always a top priority after an event of this nature, but eventually, playgrounds need to be secured and made safe for the public again. People are without power and looking, in a lot of cases, for public places to either take a break, or provide a distraction and entertainment for their children. Here are some tips we think are useful in inspecting your playgrounds after a major storm or hurricane.

picture of a playground covered in storm debris after a hurricane

Inspect and Close

If you have significant, obvious damage, like trees falling on your equipment, or if the equipment itself sustained significant damage from the wind or rising waters, the first step is to close the playground to the public and call the manufacturer or installer.

If your playground equipment was ever submerged, but the water has receded, it will need to be inspected. The equipment may look fine and be ready for use, but you may not be aware of any washout or issues that could have occurred to the support system of the playground that could at some point pose as a hazard. The playground should be closed so that an inspection can be completed.

Here is an additional list of things that need to be checked:

  • Check for erosion around the footings. If there is significant erosion, the playground should be closed for inspection.
  • Inspect all the nuts and bolts to see if any are loose or missing; tighten any that are loose and replace any that are missing. If you do not have a maintenance kit with enough replacement hardware, you may need to contact your playground manufacturer.
  • Double walled rotationally-molded plastic components like slides, climbers, and panels may have filled with water. The best way to drain the component is to drill a small hole on the underside to allow drainage. We suggest a ¼” hole or smaller, in a low, but unused area of the component (for example, on the bottom side of a slide).

Wash Your Equipment

Before you reopen a playground that has been subjected to flooding, we recommend that you clean it with fresh water. If you are in coastal counties, and your equipment was submerged, or sprayed by saltwater, it is probably a good idea to rinse the equipment with fresh water as soon as possible. Playground manufacturers go to great lengths to prevent corrosion, but salt water from a storm surge is particularly corrosive. Depending on the conditions and flooding that may have occurred during the storm, another good reason to clean your equipment with fresh water is to remove potentially hazardous chemicals or sewage that might have been present in rising storm water.

Pressure washers work well for cleaning playground equipment but be sure you use a light amount of pressure to avoid damaging the paint on the equipment and surface finishes. Make sure you clean every part of the equipment, especially places where children place their hands. Wash every surface of your playground with fresh water as soon as possible.

Look at any moving parts – suspension bridges, tic-tac-toe panels, zip lines, swings, moving climbers, spinners, whirls, and merry-go-rounds. These all need to be moved a bit to make sure the internal mechanisms aren’t full of debris and sand. If they don’t move normally, flush the moving parts with fresh water. There may be sand and silt embedded in the pivoting mechanisms. If water frees up the movement, let it dry and lubricate as recommended by the manufacturer. If it does not free up with cleaning and lubrication, contact the manufacturer.

Safety Surfacing

The part of the playground that is most at risk in these situations is typically the safety surfacing.  Different types of surfacing will require different care, but it all should be inspected. Obviously, all the big items like limbs, logs, lumber, and trees need to be removed.

For rubber surfacing like poured-in-place rubber, rubber tiles and bonded rubber mulch, check to see if the surfacing has been torn or gouged from the impact of debris during the storm. Once the area has dried, contact your installer or manufacturer to repair the surface quickly because a small tear can become an even larger problem if left unattended, resulting in a more costly repair. During a storm, debris, sand, silt or dirt can also fill the voids in the rubber surfaces that allow them to be spongy and compress during use. If these voids are filled, the rubber surface can become hard and not offer the same cushioning effects that may be required. The best way to get the debris out of the voids is to ‘flush’ the material with fresh water. You can use a pressure washer but apply very light pressure and use caution to avoid damaging the surface. The force of direct application from a pressure washer can tear apart the material causing additional damage. Saturate the safety surfacing area so that the silt is flushed out of the voids and the surfacing material can work correctly. If the debris is left in the voids, it can start cracking and flake away over time.

For synthetic turf, remove any large debris items like trees, limbs, logs, and storm debris. If the turf has become ‘wrinkled’, it needs to be re-stretched and you should contact your installer or manufacturer. If it seems to have remained in place, check it for the proper infill material. The infill will often float or blow away during a hurricane. Without the infill, the turf will start to lay over and become matted. If there is not sufficient infill, contact the installer or manufacturer. It may just need to be brushed to relocate the infill back to the right area.

For mulch or wood chips, the most frequent situation is that it floated away. If it’s still present, remove the large debris, and check the mulch for the correct depth. After a flooding event, you are probably going to need to replenish mulch and wood chips. After the storm water recedes, ensure that there is proper drainage for the play area. Poor drainage will allow water to stay longer and encourage the wood chips to rot quickly.

Document Everything

As you evaluate your parks and facilities, we suggest that you take pictures of any damage you see. You will need it for many aspects of recovery, including FEMA documentation, insurance claims, and repair or replacement parts from your playground manufacturer or installer.

We’re Here to Help

Advanced Recreational Concepts has consultants all over Florida and Georgia who can help you inspect your playground and put together a maintenance plan for you. Even if you haven’t endured a massive weather event, we are always available to provide advice and assistance.