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NSFW – Not Safe for Working #2

Another week of complete ridiculance in the world of hilariously unsafe BS in the industry across the world has passed, ladies and gentlemen!  Sometimes I see photos of things that literally make me laugh out loud.  Out loud.

Like this – what is that, a 1970’s porno par can bush?

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This is called a Half-Cheese-Nelson.  Actually Bill Sapsis should weigh in on this, what is this called, Uncle Bill?

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Angled roof truss. Haaaaaaaaa.

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No, no, this is perfectly legit.  If it fits, right?  Oh my gods.

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Roof Rigging with Bear Grylls – Ultimate Death Edition:

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Come on, we got two chords on there!

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Get ready for epic winning, gaff tape clamp style.

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I call this “The Jesus Finder.”  You can find Jesus if you touch it.  You’ll actually have a nice luncheon with him right after you put a finger near this thing.

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 Thanks in part to the Dodgy Technicians Facebook Group — check it out!

PLOT TWIST in NC Stage Collapse – Promoter Convicted Previously for Extortion and Wire Fraud

from WCNC Charlotte - Shelby stage collapse photos

from WCNC Charlotte – Shelby stage collapse photos

I’ve been covering every bit of information I have gotten on the stage collapse that happened – I thank each and every production tech, every audience member, and every industry vet who has weighed in on the accident.  I was lucky enough to have a large pool of on-hand folks to call on to comment on this mess.  Unfortunately, the mainstream media publications don’t have this pool of information, and once again, the major funded publications have printed information that just isn’t accurate.  Print and TV publications like the Charlotte Observer, WCNC Charlotte, WSOC-TV, et al have published comments by the promoter, Bobby McLamb, whose attitude is just short of being criminally negligent when it comes to the safety of the people he’s promoting concerts for — and comments by the production company’s owner, James Little, who made claim in the last article published by the Charlotte Observer, for example, stating that there were 12 towers holding up the roof when it was blown over.

That comment made me go back and look at the first images of the collapsed stage.  Let’s do it together — and check my math here, but I count FOUR TOWERS holding that stage up, not twelve.  There are TWO towers that appear as if they used to hold up the FOH “truss,” and another TWO towers that appear to have held up the upstage “truss.”  Count with me here — there are not even 12 towers IN these photos.

the L&N Productions stage

I see a total of FOUR towers in this shot.

L&N Productions' "Safe stage"

Let’s play COUNT THE TOWERS HOLDING UP THE ROOF.  I count 4, not 12.  Where oh where did the other 8 go?

This kind of crap just sickens me.  As one of my anonymous sources on the road with one of the bands involved in this near fatal accident said, “you can count on this guy using this truss again and again.”  Sadly, this is probably true.

I did some research into Bobby Mclamb‘s past, and I found some very troubling information.  Mclamb was convicted of extortion and conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud in a Federal RICO (that means Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) case back in 2004 that stemmed from good ol’ Bobby exerting his influence over state fair decision making.  Mclamb ran for North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner and lost to a woman named Meg Scott Phipps; once he lost, he joined her campaign as an aide, then all of the f*ckery began.

I wonder why no major news outlet put two and two together on this? 

From the Lexington Dispatch, March 19, 2003, via Google Newspapers:

lexington-dispatch-3-19-2003

Here’s just a little more information on this case — it sort of reads like TiVO programming instructions until you understand that Mclamb served time for influencing entertainment decisions at the state level.  From a 2003 article in the Carolina Journal:

RALEIGH — A federal grand jury has indicted two former aides to Agricultural Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps, a U.S. attorney said at a press conference Tuesday.

The charges against Linda Johnson Saunders, of Louisburg, and Bobby C. McLamb, of Raleigh, include conspiracy, extortion, wire fraud, and mail fraud, said Frank Whitney, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

The charges are related to the 2000 Meg Scott Phipps Campaign for Commissioner of Agriculture. Saunders was treasurer of the campaign. She was appointed special assistant to the commissioner as a paid employee of the Department of Agriculture after Phipps took office. Saunders resigned for health reasons Dec. 1, 2002.

She is charged with five counts of mail fraud and four counts of wire fraud in connection with post-election fund-raising to pay off the campaign debt of McLamb, who was Phipps’s Democratic primary opponent.

She is also charged with money laundering and structuring transactions to avoid federal currency reporting requirements including the handling of $26,000 in cash from a Phipps fund-raiser.

One scheme detailed in the indictment included post-election contributions solicited and received by the Phipps campaign that were diverted to pay McLamb’s $75,000 Centura Bank Loan and $25,000 BB&T bank loan. Saunders concealed the diversion of the funds by filing false reports with the state Board of Elections, according to the indictment.

McLamb joined Phipps’s campaign after he lost to her in the primary. Phipps appointed McLamb assistant commissioner of agriculture after she won the general election. Phipps fired McLamb on Jan. 31, 2002.

Phipps and McLamb both had significant input into the operation of the State Fair, according to the indictment. Both are charged with violating the Hobbs Act, a federal statute that prohibits state officials from using their official power to extort money from people who have dealings with the state.

Shortly after Phipps was inaugurated in January 2001 news reports raised questions about her fund-raising. In June 2002 the State Board of Elections held a three-day hearing and fined the Phipps campaign $130,000 for campaign finance violations. Law-enforcement officials then took interest.

If you check out Bobby Mclamb’s website, he is indeed a comedian, and a motivational speaker.  I ran a background check on him, he is indeed the owner of Artists and Attractions, the papers and the TV news has already put that forth:

bobby-c-mclambWhat is scary is that he’s already been convicted of doing shady business deals once in the entertainment industry.  Do you think that perhaps allowing L&N Productions to construct rigs for him for 20 some odd years has put anyone else in danger of collapse or misinstalled equipment?  Mclamb was quoted in the Daily journal:  “…Bobby McLamb says he’s confident that L&N Productions of Hickory did a good job of putting the stage together…  McLamb is with Artists & Attractions of Raleigh and says he had never seen a roof collapse over a stage.  McLamb says he’s used L&N for more than 20 years and will continue to do so.”

Something else that Mclamb said was posted in the Charlotte Observer on August 18:

Some blamed L&N Productions Inc. of Hickory for shoddy construction of the stage. Others accused concert officials of not monitoring weather conditions.

McLamb has heard the rumors, but discounts negative comments from “people who look at online pictures and were not there at the fairgrounds when this happened.”

He stands by L&N, a firm he’s used at shows for more than 20 years and plans to keep using.

“They’re very professional,” McLamb said.

Well, Mr. Mclamb, we are an industry of experts and trailblazers, with chumps who do dangerous work mixed in — you choose to use a contractor who puts your eventgoers’ lives in danger.  Many of us have been doing this long enough to know when we see photos of accidents that better decisions have been made; you don’t have the experience that we do to make those decisions.  You shouldn’t dismiss our intelligence so quickly.  What you do when you pick people like L&N Productions to do the work for you while you stuff more money in your pockets is drive up ticket prices for future events, skyrocket insurance prices for other promoters, and give our industry a really bad name with YOUR sneaky backwards behavior.

Here’s some examples AGAIN of what Bobby Mclamb feels is professional, giving our entire industry a punch right in the throat.  Remember:  Bobby Mclamb thinks this is “very professional.”

It’s come down to this — since no one is going to do anything about this and no one is going to stop L&N Productions and Bobby Mclamb from doing shows that are equally as unsafe as this, below you will find the phone numbers and email addresses of L&N Productions, publicly posted from their website.  Give them a call and drop them an email, tell them to not only get their shit together, but to start acting responsibly in the face of the Entertainment Production industry that we all call our own.  This world is way too small for people like this to give the rest of us a bad name.  The media isn’t going to do anything for us, we must take care of this ourselves.  Tell your fellow production and touring friends to be careful around any gigs associated with L&N Productions.  The photos speak for themselves.

L&N Productions828-328-3235

James Little (Owner): james@landninc.com
John Little: john@landninc.com

Also, since Bobby McLamb, the promoter, has stated in the Charlotte Observer that he “has used L&N Productions for 20 years and will continue to do so,” give him a call and let him know that he should reconsider L&N Productions until they decide to do their work with a little more safety and security.  Here’s his contact information, he’s the president of Artists and Attractions in Lillington, North Carolina:

Artists and Attractions (also answering to this phone number is B+R Management, another Entertainer/Amusement Park management company Mclamb is involved with somehow)
Phone:  919-845-8378
artistsanda@aol.com
http://www.artistsandattractions.com

For more on Bobby Mclamb’s corrupt entertainment industry decision making (from http://www.crime-research.org/news/2003/03/Mess2201.html)

RALEIGH, N.C. – An offer by a winning politician to a vanquished candidate to help repay campaign debts has resulted in federal fraud, extortion, money laundering and conspiracy charges.

Charges against two former aides of Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps were related to fund raising during and after Phipps’ 2000 campaign, a federal prosecutor announced Tuesday.

Former campaign treasurer Linda J. Saunders was charged with 17 counts. Former commissioner candidate and assistant commissioner Bobby McLamb was charged with two counts – extortion by a public official and conspiracy, U.S. Attorney Frank Whitney said.

Phipps was not charged. During a hearing before the state Board of Elections last year, Phipps repeatedly denied knowing about her campaign’s payments toward McLamb’s loans.

But the indictment said Phipps called and wrote to Centura Bank, where McLamb owed $75,000, asking that the loan be extended.

“My husband Robert and I are holding a series of fundraisers now and after the election in November to assist Bobby in retiring this debt and feel we should have no trouble raising the money to satisfy his debt to Centura Bank,” Phipps wrote in an October 2000 letter to the bank.

During the elections board hearing, Phipps said she and her husband talked with McLamb and a campaign contributor about helping McLamb. But she said she never agreed to use her campaign money to pay off McLamb’s debt.

“I would have been terribly upset had I known that,” Phipps said in June. “My husband and I have much more of an amount of campaign debt and it should have gone to us first.”

According to the 42-page indictment, the alleged crimes began after Phipps’ campaign told McLamb the campaign would help repay his debt. McLamb received the assurance May 2, 2000, the night of the primary after McLamb offered to support Phipps in the general election.

The indictment said the Phipps’ campaign diverted at least $86,000 in contributions to repayment of McLamb’s $100,000 debt. McLamb had separate $75,000 and $25,000 bank loans and Phipps called at least one bank asking that the loan be extended while her campaign raised money for it.

An attorney for McLamb said he hadn’t seen the indictment and couldn’t comment on the charges. An attorney for Saunders didn’t return a telephone call and numbers for Saunders in Raleigh and Louisburg weren’t answered.

McLamb’s first court hearing is scheduled for March 24, according to the court clerk’s office. No hearing had been scheduled for Saunders.

Federal prosecutors said McLamb was issued a summons to appear for his hearing, while an arrest warrant was issued for Saunders. The summons gives the defendant a chance to come to court voluntarily, while the warrant tells marshals to detain the defendant.

“I’m not surprised that the indictments came down,” said David Long, McLamb’s attorney. “My client has been interviewed.”

Whitney said the U.S. Justice Department has made official corruption a priority, right behind terrorism and cybercrime, and that the charges weren’t what he normally sees.

“In my 12 years in the Justice Department, I am not aware of any charges like this in North Carolina … two senior state officials indicted for allegations of extortion,” Whitney said.

Saunders, a longtime assistant to Phipps, and McLamb were accused of soliciting money they said would go toward retiring Phipps’ campaign debt. But state campaign finance reports filed by the campaign didn’t disclose the payments to McLamb.

The indictment also said after Phipps was elected in 2000, Saunders told fair midway companies they would have to contribute to help Phipps repay debts to be considered for a contract for the 2002 fair. Phipps replaced the longtime provider of midway shows with a new company.

Saunders, 43, also was accused of accepting two cashier’s checks totaling $14,500 from unidentified donors who wanted to influence the awarding of the midway contact for the North Carolina State Fair, according to the charges. McLamb, 42, also received a $20,000 check from someone seeking a vendor contract at the fair, the indictment said.

The indictment said Saunders funneled $22,000 in cash “through a complicated structure of financial transactions” to avoid a bank currency transaction report.

McLamb had received a $75,000 loan from Amusements of America, the New Jersey-based midway operator that won the midway contract for the 2002 North Carolina State Fair, the indictment said. One of the bank loans was to repay that loan, which was funneled through the owner of a private county fair. The repayments were sent back through the same route, the indictment said.

Whitney said the indictments resulted from a nine-month investigation by state and federal law enforcement. Whitney also said the investigation is continuing and declined to say if more people would be charged.

The counts against Saunders carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years and fines totaling $5 million. McLamb faces maximum penalties of 25 years in prison and fines of $500,000. Whitney said neither defendant, if convicted, would get the maximum sentence.

It wasn’t the first investigation of Phipps’ campaign. Last year, the state Board of Elections fined her campaign $130,000. The board said the campaign had taken $84,202 in cash from donors it could not identify and more than $14,000 in illegal corporate contributions.

Phipps, 47, is the daughter of former Gov. Bob Scott and granddaughter of Kerr Scott, who served as governor and U.S. senator. She declined to comment on the indictments, citing the ongoing investigation, but said “I have faith in our system of justice ….”

Also, here’s the original indictment, in PDF:
http://www.masstort.org/Downloads/StratesLawsuit.pdf

More:
http://www.carolinajournal.com/articles/display_story.html?id=413

From the State Attorney’s Office:
http://www.justice.gov/usao/nce/press/2004/2004-Mar-03.html

http://www.justice.gov/usao/nce/press/2004/2004-Oct-19.html

And a little bit more on Phipps, who started all of this mess in the first place – Star News, October 23, 2003:

star-news-10-23-2003

Workplace Safety in Our Industry — An Awesome Primer from Sound Prospects

Another day, another reminder of how careful we all have to be when we’re out there defying the laws of reality:

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It’s no secret in our business that there are people out doing shows RIGHT NOW that should not be doing work, and companies that are one disaster from screwing up our peace and serenity with their incompetence.  There are also a lot of people out there who have never had their hands on a piece of equipment but feel qualified to give the rest of us advice on how to do things.

The opposite of the two aforementioned groups are folks like the ones at Sound Prospects in Switzerland; Sound Prospects recently wrote a great piece on workplace safety, and I needed to cross-post that article so people hear the safety chant from people OTHER than myself, Erich Friend at Teqniqal Systems (and the awesome Theatre Safety Blog), Richard Cadena from PLASA and the Academy of Production Technology, among other people chanting the Gregorian chant of survival in our business.

Please check out the article at Sound Prospects, written by Alex Schoenknecht.  I recommend also checking out some of Alex’s other articles! — a few highlights from the Workplace Safety article:

Most Common Rigging Mistakes

1.) Unrated Hardware

It is essential that the Safe Working Load (SWL) of all components in a system is known and that the Safe Working Load for the weakest component is not exceeded. Hardware that does not have the SWL clearly forged into it is a “wild card”. Most industrial applications work on a SWL of 5:1. A component that will fail under a load of 5000 lbs. that is given a safety factor of 5:1 has an SWL of 1000 lbs. In the entertainment industry an SWL of 8:1 is the accepted standard.

2.) Incomplete Installation

Even though a component may have a sufficient SWL rating, it becomes a liability if it is not installed correctly. Installations should be neat and clean with hardware properly terminated. An installation that is neat and orderly allows for easier inspections and ensures that the forces on components, such as pulleys, are within the equipment’s design limits.

3.) Damaged Equipment

A piece of damaged equipment becomes the weak link and a liability to the system as a whole. Damaged components must be replaced immediately with ones that are of equal or greater rating. Replacing a broken part, even temporarily, with a substandard piece is putting the integrity of the system at risk.

4.) Wear and Tear

Even the best of systems wear out. This is why it is essential for maintenance to be an ongoing process. Most Countries require yearly inspections of all hoisting equipment. The owner must keep a maintenance and repair log. Since we are often lifting over head the operator must be aware of any changes in how the system is running and investigate the cause immediately to ensure that safe operation is not compromised.

5.) Improper Use

Using equipment for purposes that it was not designed for, or modifying equipment for other purposes, can easily result in overloading and failure. Many components also have strict guidelines as to how and where they should be used by the manufacturer. For example Spectrum 3 proof coil chain is suitable for suspending stationary loads, but if the load will be moving a Spectrum 8 chain is required. It is important to ensure that the components are appropriate for the application.

Thanks for the great article, Alex!

April 2013’s Top 20 Posts

April 2013 has not been a fully happy period in our industry, at least on the accidents front.  Unfortunately I have to report that a lot of the top 20 posts that were read in 193 countries all over the world were stories I reported where injury or death to our stage hand brothers and sisters.  At least their names will never be forgotten, at least by me.  Ever.  In order to go where we’re going, we have to remember how we got here.  It’s not all negative, but get ready to relive some disaster in our business.

The most read post in April of 2013 from JimOnLight.com:

A Rigger Dies after a 100 Foot Fall at AT&T Center in San AntonioRIGGERS-NOT-SKYDIVERS

April 2013’s Most Read Post #2:
The TO THE ARCHIVES link on JOL!
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #3:
San Antonio Rigger Falls 100 Feet to Death at AT&T Center
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #4:
Lighting 101:  Luminance VS. Illuminance
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #5:
New Footage of the Demolition of the Famous Texas Stadium
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #6:
Let’s Be Safer, At Least in the Entertainment Industry
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #7:
A Time-Lapse of the Maroon 5 Overexposed Tour Load-In
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #8:
Memorial Fund Established for Dean Williams, Rigger Who Fell at AT&T Center in San Antonio
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #9:
UPDATE – Ultra Music Festival LED Wall Accident
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #10:
Jim Hutchison Leaves CAST Software, Opens Lumen Buddha Studios, A Lighting Industries Think-Tank and Design Studio
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #11:
INDUSTRY ACCIDENT – Ultra Music Festival in Miami, Video Wall Falls on Workers
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #12:
Something Horribly Wrong is Going On at Wicked Lasers, UPDATED
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #13:
Recommended Reading on JOL!
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #14:
Radiohead Stage Collapse in Toronto — 1 Dead, 3 Wounded
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #15:
Gaffers and Grips — DIY Gaff Tape Key Fob
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #16:
LER:  Luminaire Efficacy Rating
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #17:
DARTH FADER
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #18:
LED Freerunning:  Lighting Emitting Dudes
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #19:
Mycena Lux Coeli — The Coolest Mushroom I Have Ever Seen!
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April 2013’s Most Read Post #20:
Pilobolus’ Shadowland Review
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$35,000 Per Life, and A Search Warrant for IATSE #30 – Indiana State Fair Stage Collapse Update

So, it’s been a little while since we’ve had to see the images of the Indiana State Fair collapse during the Sugarland show on the grandstand. I want everybody to see some of these images again, I think the only way to freshly get it in your head is to see what happened.

First this happened:

Then all of these people did this:

I just read two articles on the collapse and the aftermath. One of them said that the families of the fallen concertgoers were each given $35,000 for their dead loved one and that the Indiana State Fair attendance is lagging due to the “incident,” the other article said that the IATSE Local in Indianapolis, IATSE #30, is experiencing some grind from the lawyers from the state of Indiana. From an article at the Indy Star:

Lawyers for the state and a stagehands union are working on an agreement to turn over documents relating to the Indiana State Fair stage collapse.

A lawyer for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 30 said Wednesday that he was willing to hand over apprenticeship training files on stagehands who were working at the fair when the accident occurred Aug. 13.

Local 30 stopped the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration from conducting a search of its Indianapolis union hall last week. The agency had obtained a search warrant requesting employment disciplinary records, apprenticeship training records, certificates, licenses and other documents.

“We are trying to resolve this in a nonadversarial way,” said William Groth, the lawyer for the union. “We want to cooperate. We just think a search warrant is the nuclear option.”

Marion Superior Court Judge David Shaheed on Wednesday extended a stay of the search warrant until Nov. 3.

Chetrice Mosely, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor, said “both sides have agreed to enter a discussion as to how to resolve this. Our goal is to get the records so we can do a comprehensive investigation,” she said.

This is a real bummer. I don’t really have much to comment on about this, I just wanted to share these two stories, as this is still fresh in the hearts of the families and IA brothers and sisters still mourning the loss of their cherished.

Then there was this article

INDIANAPOLIS — Two high-level investigations into the fatal Indiana State Fair stage collapse may not be released in time to help prepare for next year’s fair, the fair’s director said Tuesday.

Indiana State Fair Executive Director Cindy Hoye told a group of lawmakers that information from separate investigations into the stage collapse that killed seven people may not be complete until mid-April.

The state has typically done much of its work for its three-week-long summer fair by that point.

The state hired international engineers Thornton Tomasetti to investigate the wreckage of the stage.

The state also hired Witt Associates to assess the fair’s emergency preparations. Witt has completed much of its work but will wait until the engineers complete their investigation before issuing a report together with them, Hoye said.

“We’re progressing right now with looking at our emergency preparations, we’re doing a lot of front end work,” Hoye said after the meeting. “I think that report will clarify and put a snapshot on some of the things we need to do.”

There is more to this article of course, here – what we should be taking away from this whole thing is the amazing amount of bureaucratic inflighting and policy clouding will be involved with the results of the collapse by that time.  Let’sd hope not much – but we can all watch the news and determine how good this situation is going to come about once it becomes filled with politics.  I sincerely hope for the sake of the hearts of those involved that this time is the one exception.

 

Indiana State Fair Stage Collapse Claims A Seventh Victim

I want to make sure that no one ever forgets these two images:

Unfortunately, this horrible accident has claimed its seventh life, and now Meagan Toothman’s family is donating her organs, perhaps later today.  Here’s another image not to forget:

Rest in peace, Meagan.  Thanks for donating your organs so that others may improve their quality of life.  We’re really sorry that you had to have this decision made for you.  If you would like to know more about Meagan, check out Meagan’s family’s website on Meagan’s process.  Unfortunately, you know how the story turned out already.

Just a quick recap of some stories you should be reading about this disaster in Indiana:

Boo’s thoughts on the Indiana Stage Collapse

 

Indiana’s Self Policing Raises Questions – this one is kinda great, just because it calls into question the procedures and practices being used by Indiana Fair Investigators.  From the article:

Other states in similar positions have formed special commissions with outside experts to handle investigations, including of a bonfire collapse at Texas A&M University and the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels so far hasn’t mentioned the idea, and instead has repeatedly referred to the wind gust that toppled the stage but spared other nearby structures as a freak occurrence that couldn’t have been anticipated.

“The fair has an interest in protecting itself,” attorney Jerry Miniard of Erlanger, Ky., who is representing an injured girl, said Thursday. “Why in the world would you let someone who may be responsible investigate themselves?”

Miniard said he is a friend of the father of 10-year-old Jade Walcott, whose skull was crushed by the falling stage. He questioned how thorough the probe will be given that it’s nearly all being done in-house.

“The state of Indiana is basically investigating itself,” he said.

Judy Nadler, a former mayor of Santa Clara, Calif., who is a senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, said that could be a mistake.

“There’s this sort of automatic default to say, we have people here internally who can take a look at this … but for something so closely affiliated with the state, it would be wise to call upon someone who doesn’t have any even perceived conflict of interest,” Nadler said. She suggested bringing in someone from outside the state, perhaps even an outside regulator.

“I think it really is such a significant event … it requires a level of independence to fully discern the facts and to fully convey to the public that this was a fair and thorough and impartial and nonpolitical look at what happened,” she said.

State fair officials did announce this week that they had hired New York engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti Inc. to review the stage’s design and construction, but Miniard questioned how far-ranging that probe might be since the state will determine the scope of the investigation.

“The state of Indiana is in complete control over the investigation,” Miniard said. “And the state’s interests are possibly different than those people who were injured or killed.

Fair spokesman Andy Klotz said the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other agencies conducting their own investigations will all report to the fair commission. “I am quite sure that everybody is going to be satisfied with the thoroughness of this investigation,” he said. “And nobody wants the answers more than us.”

You know what, I’m not touching that one today.

Also, see the article Indiana State Fair’s Disaster Preparedness Plan is One Page Long.

You still think this is a fluke, Governor Daniels?

Pukkelpop Festival Update – Five Dead, 70+ Hurt

This has not been a great week for news folks, I am so sorry.  I would much rather report on things like training baby bunnies how to program a GrandMA2, turning Congressmen and Senators into truck loaders and box pushers, and making a puppy the head of research and development for NASA.  I don’t know about any of that, but something to turn the mood from disaster to something other than disaster.

What has been posted so far on the wire about Pukkelpop is that now there are five people killed, seventy plus injured.  The Pukkelpop Festival has been officially cancelled.  From the Pukkelpop website, translated to English:

The festival site is completely closed. Today , all belongings from the lockers still be picked up at the information booth at the main entrance.From tomorrow we gather all belongings from the lockers and bring it in at the police van Hasselt, where they can be collected. The service lost property during the office hours at 011/26 73 15.  The campground is open until 24:00 on Saturday, August 20 . Tents and camping equipment can be picked up until then.

Just a few bits of information to clarify – people are reporting Pukkelpop as in Brussels – it’s actually in Hasselt, Belgium.

From the article at the Washington Post:

The death toll is up to five after a stage collapsed during a violent storm at Belgium’s Pukkelpop festival. The rest of the festival, which was scheduled to run through Saturday and attract around 60,000 fans to see bands such as Foo Fighters, Eminem, James Blake and more, was canceled after the incident, which also left 75 people injured. This marks the fourth major stage collapse incident of the summer, coming on the heels of last weekend’s tragedy at the Indiana State Fair.

From the AP wire, this time from Billboard:

The death toll rose to five and 75 injuries as a result of a fierce storm that hit the Pukkelpop music festival in Belgium yesterday (Aug. 18), causing three stage tents to collapse.

At 5:00 a.m. this morning, the organizers decided to cancel the rest of the festival out of respect for the victims and those mourning. The public has bee advised to leave the campsites and extra busses and trains are being ordered to evacuate the 40,000 remaining concertgoers.

On Thursday (August 18) at approximately 6:30 p.m., the festival and campground in Kiewit, Belgium, near the town of Hasselt roughly 50 miles east of Brussels, was hit with a massive rain and hailstorm that damaged three stages (The Chateau Tent, Boiler Room and Wablieft Tent) and the festival’s infrastructure as trees fell and debris swirled about.

Ambulances and cranes were called to the scene for help. The injured were brought to the Hasselt hospital, others to the Kiewit Sports complex for treatment. One festivalgoer said the cell phone network was completely jammed adding to the confusion.

The A.P. reported that officials said at a joint press conference on Friday with Hilde Claes, the mayor Hasselt and festival organizer Chokri Mahassin that meteorologists did not predict a storm of that intensity. “I have seen many tropical storms, Mahassine said, “but this was unprecedented.”

Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme offered condolences to the families of the victims and said authorities would continue to provide assistance in caring for the injured.

The city of Hasselt has issued an emergency information number 011-32-11-23 97 11.

Photos from the aftermath – I’ve reposted just a few, but please visit the International Business Times website for a humbling set of photos:

More report from the NYT:

“This started out as a huge festival with happy people partying and ended up as our biggest nightmare,” Hilde Claes, the mayor of Hasselt, and the festival organizer, Chokri Mahassine, said in a statement released Friday morning. “We want to emphasize that what happened here was exceptional and unforeseeable.”

The Associated Press reported that at a joint news conference on Friday, the mayor and the organizers of the festival said meteorologists had not predicted such an intense storm. “I have seen many tropical storms,” Mr. Mahassine said, “but this was unprecedented.”

Those who attended on Thursday night said they had never experienced weather so severe.

Christophe Van Impe, a Belgian journalist attending the event, said the storm hit just an hour after he had seen the group Explosions in the Sky perform. “It was like a scene out of the film ‘Twister,’ ” he told a Belgian newspaper, La Capital, in a firsthand account published on that paper’s Web site on Friday. “The audience began to panic, especially when two enormous pylons holding up a giant screen collapsed.”

“All of a sudden, a 15-meter rip appeared in the tent behind the artists, who ran for it. That’s when the structure collapsed onto the audience,” he wrote.

Another journalist present at the scene, Nicolas Capart, said the sky turned green, then yellow and then black as the storm intensified. “The field we were in was very exposed,” Capart told a live blog hosted by La Libre Belgique, a Belgian newspaper, on Friday. “There was nothing to block the wind. I thought we were in the eye of a cyclone.” Hail the size of table tennis balls fell while trees crashed down on cars, Mr. Capart told the blog by phone from the Pukkelpop event.

Many of those camping out to attend the rock festival were forced to spend the night in the flooded fields and were still struggling on Friday to leave the area, amid huge traffic jams.

Dr. Pascal Vranckx of Jessa Hospital in Hasselt said on Friday that many of those injured had been hit on the head by debris, and that three patients were in critical condition at the hospital, “fighting for their lives.”

“Those seriously injured have wounds caused by different objects which flew through the air, by debris and by trees,” Dr. Vranckx said, according to an article published online Friday by La Libre Belgique. “The people in a critical condition are suffering from head, chest and stomach wounds, which could cause hemorrhages.”

Stay tuned, I’ll keep posting updates as I get them.

Indiana Homeland Security Says Outdoor Stages are Not Structures – More on the Indiana State Fair Collapse

In the ongoing and expected to be long-winded and ongoing investigation of the Indiana State Fair Stage Collapse, the Indy Star has put out another article.  This one has some interesting information in it about how Indiana Homeland Security feels about temporary outdoor stages.  From the article at the Indy Star:

Under Indiana Administrative Code, a structure — temporary or permanent — has to meet stringent code requirements, such as being able to withstand winds of up to 90 miles per hour. The winds at the fairgrounds blew less fiercely than that Saturday evening, about 60 to 70 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

But the Indiana Department of Homeland Security said temporary outdoor stages are not, strictly speaking, structures.

“You’re talking about scaffolding and equipment,” Erickson said, “not a structure.”

Well, there we have it.  Outdoor stages are just scaffolding and equipment in Indiana, not “structures,” so they don’t get inspected.  Awesome.  You really have to read this article, folks.  Let’s hope Indiana’s Department of Labor and Indiana OSHA don’t take five months to figure out what happened on this one like they did with Declan Sullivan, the University of Notre Dame student killed when the crane he was in to film a football practice tipped over in the wind.

Gah.  Go read the article at the Indy Star on this – what a crazy read to just come across.

Sorry Governor Daniels, We’re In the Business of Keeping Our Fans Safe – Indiana State Fair Collapse Continues

Don’t forget this image, people:

Don’t forget this one, either:

I’m overwhelmed with the awesome response that was given to the article from yesterday about the disaster at the Indiana State Fair at the Sugarland show.  I’ve got my hands in as many places as I can right now to keep on top of this situation, but there are some large mysteries surrounding this misery.

However, have you read the news in the AP wire (thanks Fox) about how now they’re looking at the collapse?  This has become a media salvage operation for Governor Daniels and his crew.  Sorry folks, this really upsets me, especially the language in his statement about the collapse.  From the report at the AP wire:

“Our first job is to get back in the business of living, get back in the business of the state fair and back in the business of caring for each other,” he said.

Since we’ve already arrived at the blame game part of the disaster with the Governor and the State Fair promoter people, I think we have two fingers that can be pointed.  Sorry, Governor Danielsyou get finger #1.

You know what, I understand that you’re just trying to salvage face at this point.  What you need to understand, sir, is that our industry, the Entertainment Industries as a whole, doesn’t do too well when these kinds of events happen, especially when they could have been avoided.  Nate Byrd’s donation of his life for the sake of a State Fair show is a donation that you should be clamoring to give back with every second of future shows you ever have a hand in producing.  I want you to know that, everyone in the industry wants you to know that, and I hope that you never forget that a show is LESS important than what you observed on Saturday.

Let’s take a look at some chain of command stuff here before we start blaming stagehands and riggers.  I think that is very, very important.  So, the chain of command broke down WAY before the time to blame riggers and stagehands.  Now is there stuff we don’t know?  Sure.  Everything is speculation at this point.  But five people are dead.  It’s time to get some answers now.

  1. Promoters.  It’s your fault for this happening.  Since you didn’t call this show at least on hold when that weather is visible, the blood is on your hands.  What you’re going to find is that there are many people under you who were probably suggesting that the show be held, at least until the weather passed.  Another show was cancelled just a bit away from your site, and those promoters gave their audience at least 30 minutes to get there before any weather reached the site.  Did that not surprise you?
  2. State Safety Officer.  What was it that you were doing that was more important that this?  You can get weather reports and warnings for free via text message if you happen to have an old phone.
  3. Public Safety Officer.  What were you doing when the weather was an hour away?  Your responsibility was public safety.  Five are dead.  I’d say you failed.
  4. Venue Manager.  You should have had your weather reports right up in your face, ready to tell the promoters that you were going to stop the show, and that was that.  Getting the PA down, getting the roof down, and getting the hands off of the deck are all things you should have been reporting to both the promoter(s) and the crew chief to execute.
  5. IATSE Steward onsite.  This one hurts me, but it’s true – what the IA stewards say onsite goes for all IA hands.  People should have been out of that rig when that weather was coming.
Promoters are not Gods, everybody.  They can be told no.  I mean, what’s the worst they’re gonna do, fire you?  My guess is that there are a lot of people who wish they would have gotten fired right now.

For the record, the Entertainment Industries are all about protecting our fans from the art they desire while we execute it like only we know how.  But we’re professionals about it, and we know when you need to pull the PA down, drop the roof and lighting, and just deal with angry fans for the sake of the fans until the storm passes.  Sugarland still would have rocked the heck out of it.

Sorry folks, but there are some issues with this AP article that have to be addressed.  I’m gonna go through these really quickly here, but the world needs to know how pissed our industry is with this mess.

From the AP article:

As the fair reopened Monday, investigators and the families of the dead and injured were still seeking answers to hard questions: Was the structure safe? Why were the thousands of fans not evacuated? Could anything have been done to prevent the tragedy?

State fair officials have not said whether the stage and rigging were inspected prior to Saturday’s show. Fair spokesman Andy Klotz said initially that the state fire marshal’s office was responsible for inspections, but he backtracked Monday, saying he wasn’t sure whose job it is.

A spokesman for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security said neither the fire marshal nor Homeland Security officials conduct inspections. And the city does not have the authority to inspect items on state property.

“We do have our own requirements within the city for temporary structures, and we do have our own permitting requirements,” said Kate Johnson, spokeswoman for the Indianapolis Department of Code Enforcement. “But in this situation, we don’t have that authority because it’s state-owned property.”

As they investigate, inspectors for the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be looking at the weather and any potential structural or design flaws in the stage, among other things, experts said.

Another emerging issue is whether fair organizers responded quickly enough to forecasts of an approaching storm, especially since a different concert nearby was canceled because of the weather.

People, Mother Nature is gonna trash anything when hurricane strength winds blow through somewhere, but what the media needs to understand is that the reason this happened is a combination of things that we will probably soon discover in the follow-up.  Biggest issue right now?  WHY WAS THE RIG STILL IN THE AIR WHEN THAT STORM WAS COMING?!  Did you see that big blue tarp in the video flap around in the wind like a sail?  My professional guess would be that it was among the reasons for the sideways fall of that structure, the sail catching wind and pulling the rig out of balance.  But let me just say this out loud again so that all government agencies and OSHA and all of the people who will still be blaming our industry for this mess for a long time coming:  WHY WAS THE RIG STILL IN THE AIR WHEN THAT STORM WAS COMING?!

Here’s finger #2 – at the promoters for this event.

I am making a public call to the media and to the world – WHY DO WE NOT HAVE AN ANSWER FROM A PROMOTER ABOUT THESE THREE QUESTIONS?

WHY was the RIG STILL IN THE AIR when the storm was coming?
WHERE were the safety organizations’ representatives when this weather was coming through?
WHY was the RIG STILL IN THE AIR when the storm was coming? 

Was it worth the deaths?  Was it worth the mess?  Here’s the REAL kicker for your sleepy time – you DO REALIZE that Sugarland would have still played a great show if you would have taken the time to lower the PA, drop the roof, just for the time the storm was coming, and then rocked the crap out of your fairgoers’ faces.  Nate Byrd would also be running spots still, too.

We need to be concerned about a few things here:

  • Does it concern anyone else that the very same people who keep saying “oh hey, I don’t know WHO’S job roof safety is” are the very same people who are going to be investigating the disaster?  What I’m gonna be looking for is for OSHA and the Indiana people involved with this to be reaching out to parties in the Entertainment Industry to help them with the engineering and consulting.
  • We need to be concerned that there is already backtracking in public statements.  This is going to get worse.  Governor Daniels’ constant “let’s be moving on and healing from this tragedy” makes me even more suspect.  Sorry Gov’nah, this is more than just votes and political popularity.  Our industry is on the carpet for the lack of due diligence that the fair promoters exhibited in NOT GETTING THAT ROOF IN when the storm was coming.  We will NOT let you hang us out to dry on this one, especially when you chose to exhibit such negligence in this situation.
  • Kate Johnson’s statement:
    “We do have our own requirements within the city for temporary structures, and we do have our own permitting requirements,” said Kate Johnson, spokeswoman for the Indianapolis Department of Code Enforcement. “But in this situation, we don’t have that authority because it’s state-owned property.”  Um, no.  More pass-off.  We can expect a lot more of this kind of garbage, I’m afraid.
  • Was the structure safe?  We’ll find out the answer to that soon, to be sure.  What is obviously a big issue is WHY THE RIG WAS A FULL HEIGHT IN THE ONCOMING STORM.  It’s Indiana, people, not Denver, where the mountains can hide rain.

I’m so disgusted with the just monster fountain of crap that’s engrossing this horrific incident.  It’s up to US to make sure we can filter the BS.  Anything and everything we can do is what is prescribed now.  If we leave this in the hands of the people who are obviously doing such a great job of managing the fair now, I fear it’s only going to be a matter of time before I’m writing about the next bunch of music lovers who were killed in a roof collapse.

Governor Daniels, this was not a freak accident.  This was negligence.  Promoters, I’m gonna be waiting for your answer.  We all are.

Indiana State Fair Stage Collapse, Five Dead. Now What?

Sorry folks, this video is the harsh reality of what happened in Indiana on Saturday at the Sugarland concert.  Just be forewarned, it shows the rig collapsing onto people, and it’s pretty real.  What cannot, cannot, cannot be overlooked at the end of the video is the bunch of hands that came running to lift that structure, regardless of whether or not they could.

WARNING:  This is a pretty graphic video of the Indiana State Fair stage collapse:

Indiana State Fair Stage Collapse from Christopher Netanyahu on Vimeo.

That video made me cry, I am dead serious.  We lost a member of the local crew of IATSE Local 30 in this disaster, too.  Brother, rest in peace.  Nathan Byrd, also apparently known as “Save The Show” Nathan, leaves behind two teenagers.  Nathan was in the truss at the time of its collapse.  The gear belongs to Mid-America Sound out of Greenfield, Indiana.  If you’ve done corporate or concerts in the midwest, chances are you’ve probably run into their gear, that’re a widely used production company.

Four people and one stagehand are dead and at least forty others are injured because something our industry put together to have a show collapsed in weather.  What happened?  Is this weather?  Were all of the proper safety features installed properly and working?  I’m not placing blame, that’s not even remotely the point right now.  The point is that this has happened, it seems to be happening a fair amount lately in roughly this size of production, and now what are we going to do to mitigate this from happening?  I have heard more than one person after these events say something along the lines of “it happens, thank God no one was hurt” or “it happens, these people were just unlucky.”

Bullsh*t.  

Also, Governor Daniels, STOP SAYING that this was “a freakish accident,” because that is a lie.  This could have been avoided if your promoters would have had a bit more importance placed on concertgoer safety.  This should have been shut down until the weather passed, or shut down altogether WAY in advance of the ten minutes you people have been reporting as the only warning you had for this wind event.  Stop diluting this by calling it a freakish accident.  It’s further from the truth than anything else you’ve said about the collapse.

I had to get ahold of my go-to safety guru, Erich Friend from Teqniqal Systems for this one, I’m no safety expert.  Erich and I work together here and there on projects, but more than anything, Erich is a brilliant safety guy who writes for TheatreFace, has a safety and consulting firm, and writes the Theatre Safety Blog.

JimOnLight.com: Erich, you’re the best safety consultant I know, can you make some sense of this mess? What the hell is going on that this keeps happening? Indiana State Fair’s roof structure, the collapse in July at the Cheap Trick show in Toronto, Peter Frampton in Germany last year, what on earth is going on?

Erich Friend: Jim, you just touched the surface on the number of well documented events like this that have happened. In fact, this is the third one in three weeks. This most recent event is the most tragic in terms of body count – 45 injured, five dead – and is certainly one of the most visible due to the press coverage.

JOL: I think there are fingers to point here, but right now what is most important is to be solving the freaking problem. People died on Saturday. People died because an entertainment structure collapsed. Where do we go here? How do we stop this? Is ETCP the answer, or is there something else that we should be trying to implement or change?

EF: For starter’s, there will be a serious investigation of this by the Indiana State Police and OSHA to assess this event. Some of this will be a look at the structural integrity of the concert rig, some will look at the weather conditions, and another part will be to look at the venues’ management of the crowd and crew in clearing the area around the structure. Although the attachments for these structure may have been executed by ETCP certified riggers, this really only indicates that the connections may have been performed properly and that sufficient safety cables may have been attached to keep the lighting and sound equipment from separating from the canopy structure. The use of ETCP certified riggers may not have a large bearing on the structural decisions made during the design and set-up of the truss and support towers. Given the unique circumstances involved in outdoor events under portable canopies, there may be a clear need for ETCP to develop a third category of rigging certification that specifically addresses this segment of the entertainment industry.

JOL: There has to be blowbacks for this. Can you explain to a reader who doesn’t really understand what is going to now, what needs to happen because of this disaster? What ramifications will there be for this?

EF: With so many of these accidents happening recently, I would hope that the insurance carriers would begin to demand that a more robust system of structures, weather monitoring, fast track decision making authority, and crowd management planning be implemented. The structures that are used for these events certainly require closer scrutiny, as the covers for them act like huge sails in the wind and drag these canopies over too easily. This is an international problem, so to be effective, an international consortium of manufacturers’ designers, safety experts, meteorologists, and building code officials will have to ‘get on the same page’ so they can develop acceptable standards for the consideration of weather conditions. They will also have to develop clear criteria about when to ‘call a show’ and evacuate the venue. Apparently ‘common sense’ isn’t enough.

JOL: This is obviously not directly related to medium sized rigs like the one in Indiana – the U2 tower collapse, the Madonna collapse, obviously back in the day the monster Justin Timberlake/Christina Aguillera concert collapse in New Jersey come to mind as well as several others. Do you see this as impacting a certain size of production where safety is somehow lax or just non-existent? Make all of this make sense to me, I’ve never been on a show where anything drastic like this has happened. Is this the sheer force of nature, or something a little more deliberate?

EF: The Modonna tour stage canopy collapse and the Justin Timberlake/Christina Aguillera truss collapse were different than the weather related failures in that they were the outcome of equipment failures and failure to closely monitor rigging loads. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. The weather related collapses are strongly influenced by humans being in denial that the weather can bulldoze a stage structure in just seconds. Although there was only 10 minutes between the National Weather Service (NWS) issuance of a Severe Weather Warning and the collapse of the stage in Indiana, the weather front that triggered this warning was clearly visible and tracked for hours, if not days, in advance. When there are hundreds of thousands of pounds of equipment in the air over a stage, the potential for damage inside the ‘crash radius’ of the structure is significant. The structure must be assembled to minimize the surface area that the wind can blow upon (break-away canopy tarps, vent flaps, etc.) and the structure must be secured to withstand the forces expected to be imposed upon it under severe weather conditions. A proper weather emergency plan would have included the precaution of lowering the canopy to stage level, too, so that the wind could not exert forces near the top of the structure.

The shear force of nature is significant and should NEVER be underestimated. As mother nature would say (after she’s knocked back a few) “Don’t %$#@ with Mother Nature!” You can’t win. HUGE forces are involved. The key is that we KNOW this, therefore we can expect this. All the quotations you read and hear on the news after these tragedies that say “It just came out of nowhere”, “We just didn’t see it coming”, “We didn’t think it would get this bad”, or Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels saying “I’m not clear how anyone could have foreseen a sudden, highly localized blast of wind” are unbelievably ill thought-out statements. We have the technology to monitor wind and weather in real-time, we know how fast it is travelling, which way it is going, and where it is. What it takes is someone in a position of authority with enough common sense and large enough ‘nads to call the show and clear the venue will a sufficient margin of error to ensure that no one is put in harm’s way. The outdoor concert industry needs a serious reality check if they think that these accidents can be marked-up to voodoo weather or ‘freak’ occurrences. There was absolutely nothing about this that was unpredictable or unforeseeable. Like with most things, the body count has to get high enough to be noticed.

JOL:  Thanks a lot, dude.  This is a really bad situation from all angles.  This is bad, very bad.

One begins to wonder when you work in this industry AND see something like this go down AND people lose their lives.  I worked in a place once where a supervisor said to me – “we’ll get it fixed, but I think the funding will only arrive once someone falls out of the ceiling to show them it’s dangerous.”  That kind of attitude makes me want to punch someone right in the mouth.  What really sucks is that it’s probably closer to the truth than not.  I think that there should be some serious ramifications to this horrific situation with respect to jail time and reprimand of a serious degree.

If you’ve not been following the news and you’re in the industry, well, that’s why I’m here, to help you with that.  The frequency of these roof or stage collapses over the summer has not been ZERO where it should be; in fact, this makes THREE in the last three weeks.  That is wholly unacceptable.  This time, the little bit of comfort that these roof structures provide cost five people their lives, not to mention the trauma it doled out for others not killed in the collapse.  I spoke with Scott Blair about this too – Scott used to work for High End Systems as the Director of Digital Light Development before BARCO decided otherwise.  Scott’s also behind PlugFest, and does a ton fo work with Remote Device Management development.  Scott’s a pretty vocal guy like I am, and he and I get along well in part due to that fact!

JimOnLight.com: Scott, what happened in Indianapolis? Don’t people follow the ANSI regulations with this kind of a scenario when people’s lives are at risk? There were several tens of thousands of pounds of gear hanging from that roof structure, where are the checks and balances?

Scott Blair: First off, let me state that I’m not an expert in rigging and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night either (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wm-h7YR_410). Most of my life has been spent on the Lighting side of the industry and in developing ANSI standards for control protocols. I spent a lot of my early formative years working on a Summer outdoor production in an area known for sudden and unpredictable wind and weather (and poor planning) which is where I gained a strong appreciation for what mother nature can dish out! With the disclaimers out of the way, what people need to realize is that while there are ANSI Standards for construction and use of portable stages developed by ESTA (now PLASA), but these are *voluntary* standards. There is no REQUIRMENT that anyone follow them and I see that as a serious issue. Reputable manufacturer’s (such as the one for this structure) are likely going to follow the standards out of good practice and common sense. Engineers from many of these manufacturer’s are typically the ones involved in writing them. There is a big disconnect when it comes to the guys out in the field erecting and using these stages though. The same goes for using ETCP certified riggers. Some venues may require them, but there are no government regulations I’m aware of anywhere that require this. One point I raised a couple years ago on this when discussing another one of these failures and what can be done to change the safety climate is that the Insurance carriers for all these outdoor stages and productions should be requiring that the standards are followed and certified riggers are used, in addition to requiring a Professional Engineer sign-off each time the stage is erected and failure to do so would void the insurance. In the absence of cohesive government regulations, the Insurance companies are in the best position to require and enforce the checks and balances occur. At the end of the day it is about the money with everyone, so the Insurance companies have a lot of pull. With the increasing number of failures in recent years, I hope that is something that may already be happening out there. Frankly, carnival rides get more scrutiny for safety than these large stages do and that is something that MUST change!

JOL: There are myriad issues with this entire horrific event that just need to be made outwardly obvious. Besides the obvious factor of an approaching major weather event, can you tell me what the most significant factors that could have been mitigated?

SB: There are lots! We’ve been discussing this a lot over at LightNetwork in the last 24 hours and sadly it took us as an industry stacking up bodies before people really take notice. Outdoor stage failures have become so commonplace in recent years that there isn’t even much reaction to them other than “Oh look, another one.” I said over 2 years ago it was only a matter of time before people started getting killed from these. Frankly, we’ve had an incredible run of luck that it took this long even though there were a lot of close calls. That is the FIRST thing that should have been noticed and mitigated! With the frequency of failures, no one thought it could happen to them and they’ve kept building these things bigger and adding more weight and more sails to them. Rather than being more cautious, it appears that the limits keep getting pushed farther! Everyone is trying to do their full arena show on an outdoor portable stage!

The SECOND and one of the most troublesome practices for me is the use of these tarp roofs and backdrops and side wind-walls. These all act as huge sails and exert ENORMOUS forces on a rig, particularly lateral forces where structures are the MOST vulnerable and where there is the most variability in terms of how the stage is erected with guy wires, ballast, and cross bracing to reduce them. Some of these roofs are designed for people to release them in high winds (i.e. cut away) and lots of speculation about how that could be made better and if the roof was cut loose sooner than this might not have happened. I see that discussion in the same vein as saying, ‘if the Titanic only had more buckets to bail water they would have been fine!’ I see all the tarp roofs and backdrops as serious safety factors. Even if in high winds you do manage to cut the roof tarp away before it brings the stage down, there is a serious amount of mass that and size that is now airborne and can likely kill or do serious harm wherever it lands! There are a lot people that believe cutting slits in the backdrops ‘allows the air to pass through.’ Yes, in very small quantities. A sail with holes in it is still a sail! I once worked with large 2 story store front set pieces that were constructed out of screen door material and scenic painted. Since it was fine mesh screen material the wind should just pass through them right? Wrong, these things made fantastic sails and more than one night the entire crew was trying to stop these things from blowing away.

Hanging PA also must stop. These things are enormously heavy, catch a lot of wind, and if not tied down will create a very nasty swinging wrecking ball. They also frequently prevent the roof from being lowered in bad weather, something that is a necessity.

The THIRD biggest issue appears to have been management. It is clear there was a serious lack of communication and decision making occurring there. The one thing I hear over and over in our industry is that people are too afraid to be the one that “cancelled the show” or being seen as crying wolf. Or even if they do try to make the call they are overruled by the Promoters. I sleep a lot better being unemployed or being disliked than I do being responsible for manslaughter. That’s what this is. It was not a freakish unforeseen weather event, it was a large storm line with hours of warning preceding it and no action taken to 1. actually evacuate people nearby, 2. lower the stage. 3. cut the roof free (at least not until way too late) or 4. even call the Spot Op’s down from the roof that should never have been up there to begin with! I don’t know how else to describe this gross negligence than being manslaughter. Besides being a well formed evacuation and weather plan for any outdoor event, there needs to be someone in charge that is fully empowered to overrule the money interests (Promoters/Band) and pull the plug. Furthermore, they need to be held legally responsible for doing that! So that the failure not to act has legal liability attached to it! When it is their ass on the line they won’t be as quick to defer to the Promoter or other money interests and they will be doing what is safest.

JOL: Why is it, do you think, that a decision to evacuate was made so late in the process? That is one thing that I just cannot quite wrap my head around – with a rig that large on a standing superstructure roof (and a BIG roof at that) and with such a front approaching that there were stagehands inside the roof structure at all? Why did they wait so long?

SB: No one wants to be the one to cancel the show (and also be responsible for refunding the money!) The natural reaction is to wait just a -little- bit longer to see if maybe it won’t be that bad. There was a wealth of information staring them in the face not the least of which is weather alerts of the National Weather Service of a severe storm line baring down on them. (See www.controlgeek.net for the weather analysis). Anyone who watches a thunderstorm roll-in knows that just because it is fairly calm right now doesn’t mean that in less than 5 minutes you won’t be getting the crap beat out of you by the winds and rain! I’ve seen several reports that the authorities made the decision to cancel but a minute or two later an announcer said they hoped to continue the show shortly. They were alerted where to go if an evacuation was called, but it was never called. The people who were cited in being responsible for making the call, which was the Emergency Personnel and the Fair Manager, would likely have had very little understanding about the very real dangers that stage posed. What has been noticeably missing are any reports from those who should have known how vulnerable that stage was with the unnecessary amount of gak hanging on it for that show. The official timeline which has just been released is sickening in the amount of clear and present danger that storm posed and the length of time they knew it. http://media2.wane.com/_local/site/PDFs/News/State%20Fair%20Incident%20Time%20Line.pdf Someone with the Production or staging company should have made the call themselves, at least to their own Spot Ops. The investigation around that aspect is going to be very interesting.

JOL: Where do you feel the blame lies at this point, legally? I guess the part B for that question is where to place the blame – is this a human error, where and with whom does it lie, and how do we go about making sure that these kinds of horrific occurrences stop happening?

SB: That is a tough call. I personally wouldn’t feel bad if there was jail time for someone for this (not a long time, but some..) There were so many irresponsible things I can point to, and that is just from the sidelines, when testimony starts coming out about the chaos and the finger pointing it will get very difficult to tell. I don’t believe it was equipment failure. I say that in the sense that I’m certain it will come out that the system lasted well beyond it’s design constraints. Personally, I believe the design constraints our industry accepts with regards to wind is too low! You didn’t see any of the carnival rides at that fair toppling over! Our industry accepts far too low of a wind rating, these things need to be much more durable and not have the limits pushed the way they are constantly. My prediction is that there will be fault found with the amount and types of load present in that roof and that there were probably was improper erection with ballast and guy wires and such. The fact the roof covering didn’t fully release and how long it took to start releasing will likely be a focal point as well.  However, I believe there is a lot of blame to go around with the management and technical personnel responsible for that stage in terms of not cancelling the show and recognizing the severity of danger.

How to stop them? Here’s my view on what needs to happen:

  • There are stronger, certainly more conservative standards in place for outdoor stages, with a wide safety margin and full respect for the volatility of the weather. These standards MUST be mandatory and not voluntary as they are now with the ESTA/PLASA standards.
  • Restrictions against use of backdrops, roofs, hanging PA. The rig must be required to be able to lower immediately at any time.
  • There needs to be a SEPARATE Outdoor Rigging ETCP certification that is mandatory. I don’t believe the nature of the Arena and Theatre rigging certifications are likely adequate to prepare for what to expect outdoors.
  • There needs to be Engineering analysis/certification each time a rig is put up that deals with the specifics of the rig being used, the soil/environment it is being used in, the weather conditions that may occur, etc…
  • There needs to be a clear safety/evacuation plan including the details of thresholds where decisions are automatic and not discretionary, i.e. sustained wind speeds/gusts, weather forecasts, pending severe weather watches/warnings.
  • There needs to be someone designated that bears the full weight and responsibility for stopping the show. This means they not only have the full authority to suspend/cancel a show which overrules band/promoter management, but also the legal responsibility to do so. In other words, their ass is legally on the line if they fail to act.

I don’t believe without these serious steps being taken we will see anything more than the status quo out there. This creates an equal and safer playing field for all and reduces the “if I don’t give in then someone else will do it anyway or do it cheaper” mentality that too many of these staging companies fall into.

JOL:  Scott, thanks so much for all of the insight.


From the Indianapolis Star about the victims:

The four who died at the scene are Tammy Vandam, 42, Wanatah, Ind.; Glenn Goodrich, 49, Indianapolis; Alina Bigjohny, 23 Fort Wayne; Christina Santiago, 29, Chicago. Nathan Byrd, 51, Indianapolis, died at Methodist Hospital earlier today.

There’s still a possibility of further fatalities, State Police 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten said.

In the conference that began at about 10 a.m. at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, Gov. Mitch Daniels was joined by State Fair Director Cindy Hoye and Bursten.

Gov. Daniels was choked up as he began talking about emergency response. 

“What you saw last night was a display of best qualities, both public and private, of Hoosiers,” Daniels said.

Bursten updated previous injury numbers that 45 people were taken to the hospital last night. He said the early indication is it was an “isolated significant wind gust” and the midway and other areas on the ground weren’t damaged as severely.  

JimOnLight.com sends out its deepest sympathy to the victims, both dead and surviving, of this horrible accident.

Thanks to CBS News, Indianapolis Star, and we’re so very sorry to hear that a member of IATSE Local 30 Indianapolis was killed in the accident.  Our hearts also go out to Nathan Byrd and his family, both IA brothers and sisters and blood.

SOME UPDATES:

An account of a stagehand working on the truss rig when it blew down (WTHR)

WTHR’s original story on the collapse