Returning Irene’s serve

FLUSHING, N.Y. — This past weekend, when many on the East Coast prepared for Tropical Storm Irene, many at ESPN prepared a variety of contingency plans, especially relating to the  Little League World Series games and NASCAR’s Sprint Cup race scheduled for ABC. 

Under the direction of ESPN Programming’s John Papa, Stephanie Holmes and Greg Bushman, arrangements were made to air them on ESPN in the markets in Irene’s path, knowing the ABC affiliates might switch away for “wall-to-wall” weather reports.

But no where in sports was Irene’s fury felt as at the US Open in New York. 

With play scheduled to begin Monday, late last week television crews were simultaneously setting up and battoning down as Irene headed northward. 

In fact, on Sunday the eye of the storm passed just 15 miles from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

“It was a contradiction in terms and tasks, both being correct,” says Jamie Reynolds of ESPN Event Production. 

“We were testing cameras, taping elements and editing while operations — charged with ownership of the assets — sought to make everything safe and secure.  Everything outside was brought in and everything was protected from water damage.”

Joalin Goff of ESPN Operations describes it this way: “We had been on site since [August] 15th building the technical infrastructure — and almost everything we built in 12 days came down in 12 hours on Saturday.”

The entire facility was evacuated and locked down Saturday at 5 p.m. 

At that point, the tennis community and the ESPN crew watched and waited. 

By mid-Sunday the worst was over, and essential personnel began putting things back together and testing the equipment.  Work continued until 1 a.m.

In the meantime, Sunday afternoon, the USTA and television networks, including ESPN Programming’s Jason Bernstein, met to assess the damage and discuss any changes necessary to the schedule.  They soon realized there was nothing but minor cosmetic damage to the grounds.

Play began largely as scheduled on Monday, with preparations delaying the first match on a handful of courts by an hour or two.

Perhaps the award for making the most effort to be there goes to anchorman Mike Tirico. 

Stuck in the Detroit airport Sunday morning, unable to fly east, Tirico rented a car. 

Ten hours later, he was in New York and on air the next afternoon.

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