On August 13, 2011 at approximately 8:50 p.m. EST a tragic incident occurred at the Indiana State Fair killing 5 and injuring dozens more. A 60-70 mph (estimated) gust of wind triggered the incident and brought down the metal scaffolding supporting lights, speakers and other equipment onto the audience below. The stage was set for the band, Sugerland. It was estimated that 200 patrons were seated in the VIP area known as the “Sugar Pit” when the collapse occurred.
Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana has termed this incident as a “fluke” that no one could have anticipated. A fluke can be described as an accident or chance happening. An accident states that an unforeseen, unplanned event or circumstance occurs and that this event transpires from a lack of intention or necessity. This was no fluke… this incident resulted from a combination of a lack of planning and structural failure. This incident was preventable.
Indiana is prone to these types of volatile weather events. Several articles discussed two separate weather related incidents in Indiana that impacted events. In 2006, tornado-force winds hit Indianapolis following a John Mellencamp concert. In 2004, a tornado forced the interruption of the start of the Indianapolis 500. Governor Daniels stated that no one could have foreseen such a strong gust. Weather can be a funny thing; however, the event planners and venue operators had historical evidence suggesting that catastrophic wind events can and do occur in this region. A plan should have been developed that appropriately monitored and evacuated patrons in the event of a storm. Witnesses say Indiana state police took to the stage to issue a weather warning about 10 minutes before. Where was the evacuation order? Clearly they missed a primary indicator and opportunity to avoid unnecessary devastation.
In 2009, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic hosted the debut of its manned spaceship in the Mojave Desert—another wind prone area. The night of the event, hurricane-force winds leveled the event’s main tent. The difference was that the event planners and venue operators had a plan. The weather was being continuously monitored by event staff and upon the recognition of a severe windstorm the patrons were evacuated. The event planners decided long before the weather turned serious to ask patrons to seek safety and shelter elsewhere. Staged buses were available to guests for shelter. This is an excellent example of pre-planning and averting unnecessary losses. Governor Mitch Daniels said precautions were taken before the storm – what did that include?
The second failure was the stage – an entirely different topic. It is difficult to determine the cause of the collapse without inspecting it. It is evident that it failed under the winds it was subjected to, but why? Were supporting beams (braces) in place? Were guy-wires in place? Was the cabling secure and adequate? Was it inspected before use? Who did the inspection? Was the roof vented for wind? Was this stage rated for this kind of wind? Was it installed properly? There are so many questions to answer concerning this device. Hopefully, the event planners and venue operators asked them ahead of time.
Risk management planning cannot be left to chance. There are numerous examples of accidents/incidents occurring within the events industry on a daily basis. If you don’t think it can impact your organization, think again. It is a matter of time and exposures before it does. Some recent examples include: a fatal stage collapse in Edmonton, 40 people injured in a hayride accident in Washington, a 12-year old run over by a parade float, and a bouncy house blowing over injuring 6. Now, we have 5 dead and dozens more injured from another stage collapse. The numbers of incidents are staggering and all preventable. Planners and venue operators must do a better job of developing and implementing fully developed risk management plans in order to prevent incidents such as this.