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A Grim Reminder of the Latest Deaths in Our Beloved Industry Before Summer Work Kicks Off

indiana-state-fair-collapse-falling

HEY!  YOU! 

You there, with the rigging bag.

You there, with the crescent wrench and fearless attitude.

You there, sporting the “supervisor” face but looking at your cell phone when motors are moving.

You there, new guy and new girl, who are googly-eyed at the awesomeness but should be watching their own backs and paying attention to the work.

The summer season of outdoor music and theatre has started, and no matter if you’re doing corporate shows, theatre, music, or art production, this post needs to serve as a reminder.  Along with orgs like PLASA and the Event Safety Alliance, JimOnLight.com is doing everything they can to NOT have a summer like the last few we’ve had – and what I can do is provide a reminder of the hell that we as an industry have seen, not to mention the families of those killed in these accidents and disasters lately.  If I might reiterate, what we do is entertainment; it may pay the bills, but if you see something less than safe happening or took place in putting something together that you might not feel 100% about once it was finished, SPEAK UP NOW!

YOUR DUTY:  It is your duty to the safety of others and your own personal safety to keep your head in the game once you are onsite.  This includes WEATHER concerns, Safety concerns,

To address an email I got from a guy out there who prefers to remain anonymous out there, who asked me what would happen if a person got fired for refusing to do something unsafe.  My response was something along the lines of:

  1. You are probably working for a company that is a time bomb of fail waiting to happen — don’t be the fuse, and don’t feel bad about not wanting to die at work.
  2. Regardless of Fact #1, you should probably consult an attorney before you go thermonuclear.  Most attorneys do so for free.
  3. Call people like OSHA, PLASA, USITT, anyone you can think of if something shady is going on.  So you lose your job – don’t for a second think that the industry won’t be behind you for saving lives.
  4. You can file unemployment in a case like that – a company doing shady safety work will sooner than later be discovered, it would not be in their interest to fight your claim.  But, your mileage may vary, and frankly, some people have better luck than others in life at these things.
  5. Feel good that you aren’t in that situation anymore, and get right back out there and find another gig if you lose yours.  Do the right thing.  Having deaths on your conscience is good for no human, no matter how little of a part you played in the process.

That’s my opinion, anyway.  That’s what I’d do.  An industry that won’t take care of people who keep it safe is not an industry anyone should participate in, regardless of the possible profits.  Money is less valuable than lives.

Here’s a reminder of sacrifices have been made to further the standardization of safety in our business – please forgive me if I overlooked one close to you, all you have to do is email me and I will append this post.

APRIL 5, 2013: 
RIGGERS, TAKE HEED:  Houston Dean Williams slipped and fell to the stage floor while moving around a beam in San Antonio at the AT&T Center.

RIGGERS-NOT-SKYDIVERS

MAY 6, 2013:
A man was killed when a PA stack fell on him
at a protest rally in Moscow.

russia-man-killed-protest

APRIL 17, 2013:
Boston Marathon Bombings claim the lives of three marathongoers, wounding several dozens.  Let’s not forget, this was at an entertainment function.

Boston Marathon Explosions TOPIX

March 15, 2013:
A video wall came apart and fell on stage hands
in Miami for Ultra Music Festival.  No one killed, fortunately, but several people were hurt.

ultra-music-festival-accident

June 16, 2012:
1 dead, 3 wounded at a Radiohead concert in Toronto, Ontario
.

radiohead-stage-collapse-toronto

December 15, 2011:
1 person was killed and 8 people injured when truss collapsed
in Trieste, Italy at a Jovanotti concert.

trieste-jovanotti-collapse

August 19, 2011:
5 people killed and 70+ injured when a storm blew over a stage
at the Pukkelpop Festival in Belgium.

pukkelpop-collapse-5

Perhaps the worst of them all lately…  August 15, 2011:
At the Sugarland show at the Indiana State Fair, a storm blew over an outdoor stage loaded with audio and lighting truss, killing 7 people and injuring 58.

indiana-state-fair-collapse-falling

May 13, 2010:
A young lighting tech in West Palm Beach fell to his death from a catwalk while working on a show.

andy-hollingsworth1.jpg

July 27, 2009:
A Pepsi Battle of the Bands in Guangzhou, China experiences a huge, sudden storm that tips over LED screens and injures several dozen.  Reports of people killed were removed from the web, so I think it’s fair that we can assume several people died in this accident.

pepsi-battle-of-the-bands-accident

July 16, 2009:
At a Marseilles, France tour stop for Madonna’s Sticky and Sweet tour, a stage roof collapsed, killing 2 stage hands involved in the load-in.

madonna-stage-collapse1.jpg

Let’s also never forget the Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake truss collapse in August 2003:

timberlake11.jpg

Just don’t forget.  Also, don’t forget that you are responsible for yourself out there, and when you’re putting equipment together, keep in mind that your diligence will mean the difference between you and others going home on the bus and going home in the ambulance – or even worse, getting a ride home with the coroner.

Be safe out there, Road Warriors!

 

Jovanotti Concert Truss Collapse. 1 Dead, 8 Injured.

These types of stories are so hard to read, and even more difficult to write.  I’m not sure if you’ve seen the images on this one, but there’s been another trussing collapse, this time in Trieste, Italy:

Unfortunately, a 20 year old hand was killed in this accident as he helped assemble the rig – Francesco Pinna was pronounced at the scene, and eight others were taken to a hospital.  Theatre Safety Guru and general ridiculously intelligent engineer Erich Friend posted the initial article on this horrible tragedy, his article is posted on his safety blog, The Theatre Safety Blog.  From Erich’s blog post on the Trieste collapse:

The concert has been cancelled and the remainder of the Ora Tour has been suspended pending investigation.  The sports complex in the San Sabba district, next to the Nereo Rocco football stadium, was seized by the authorities and cordoned-off. “All concerts have been suspended”, announced Maurizio Salvadori, owner of the Trident agency that manages the artist. “We’ll decide what to do tomorrow but at the moment no one wants to go on stage.  It is not known why the structure collapsed.  As always, everything was certified by an engineer. The structure was used all summer with no problems.”  Mr Salvadori explained that the “ground support”, scaffolding that carries speakers and reflectors, had given way.  The mayor of Trieste, Roberto Cosolini, hurried to the site of the accident and underlined the urgent need for “the investigations and expert reports to ascertain responsibility for this incident to be carried out with maximum rigour”.

Ugh.  What horrible news.  There’s not a lot of information flying around about this accident, but there are several videos posted on Youtube about the aftermath and how horrible it looks.  Here are a few videos, all post event, of the aftermath of the Jovanotti concert truss collapse:

…and another video showing some collapse aftermath:

I’m so sorry to Francesco Pinna and his family and friends. This is for certain a horrible tragedy.

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

What Seems Like Ancient History: The Justin Timberlake/Christina Aguilera Truss Collapse

This Madonna thing has got me thinking about the older truss collapses that have happened in the past – even though nothing really bad has been confirmed yet with the Madonna thing.  For those of you who read this blog and do not come in contact with regular amounts of lighting and rigging gear, the pictures below are what happens sometimes when rigging gear fails while loaded down with lighting gear…

In 2003 in Atlantic City, NJ at the Boardwalk Hall, the Justin Timberlake/Christina Aguilera show that was close to soundcheck underwent a major catastrophic failure of the venue’s supertruss.  The show’s systems, which were rigged to that truss, rode it down to the ground and smashed nearly every bit of the show’s gear.  A few people were hurt, but only minor injuries were sustained (from what I understand), but the show’s gear was a major failure.

Here’s some shots of the disaster.  Next time you’re at a show, remember that the people who’ve rigged this stuff above you are professionals, and be glad that they are.