State Fair Tragedy: The Show Must Go On – Not Always!
Jeffrey S. Downs
A large crowd of attendees waited in anticipation for the band Sugarland to take the stage Saturday night when a 60-plus mph wind gust toppled the stage onto the crowd ultimately causing the death of 5 and sending over 45 injured people to the hospital. That evening the weather forecast did create a pause for concern, but after all the show must go on, right? It is clear from this tragic event that the age old saying does not always ring true, and sometimes the show must be cancelled. What exactly was the protocol for evacuation at the Indiana State Fair? What were the criteria to determine when an outdoor show must be cancelled due to weather concerns? In the upcoming months of investigation we may get a glimpse into an answer to these questions, yet the real question still remains; was the evacuation protocol going to be enough for a stage that was erected with a lack of a proper design risk analysis? For all the lives touched by this tragic reality, the answer is likely a resounding no.
This is not the first time that tragedy struck an outside venue. Reports illustrate that since the beginning of this past July alone, a total of three other stage collapses have occurred: a lighting rig was blown over at a music festival in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the beginning of this month, lightening toppled a stage under assembly near Quebec City, and a strong gust toppled another stage at a music festival in Ottawa, Canada in July. The staggering reality is that industry standards apparently do not detail how concert organizers should react when unexpected severe weather approaches an outdoor event. Weather forecasts are at times unexpected causing the Governor here to issue a statement that the wind causing the collapse on Saturday night was just a “fluke.” It is up to someone else to determine if money and a protection of a strong reputation for the venue trumped safety concerns here, but the aftermath of this storm, and the warning to follow is quite clear, quick changes are necessary to protect persons attending concerts and events at outdoor venues.
It has been widely reported that State Troopers were arriving at the Grand Stand to aid in an impending evacuation and that organizers contacted the National Weather Service and were instructed around 8pm that a severe storm with hail and winds in excess of 40mph was possible at or about 9:15pm. If this is true, the need to cancel or postpone the concert was necessary well before the 9:15pm storm warning within enough time for safe evacuation. While crowd control has always been a factor at these venues, an eye toward weather scanning and the development of a proper and effective evacuation protocol is necessary for the safety of all in attendance.