INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An emergency plan outlining what to do if severe weather
threatens the Indiana State Fair takes up a single page and does not mention
the potential for evacuations. Most of the guidelines suggest language for
PA announcements and offer common-sense advice about seeking shelter.
After high winds toppled a huge outdoor stage, killing five people and
injuring at least four dozen, questions about whether the fair did enough to
anticipate a storm have loomed over the event. Some fairs hire their own
meteorologists for just such a scenario.
The Indiana fair’s one-page plan has nine bullet points. Two of them quote
specific wording for announcements to be made when severe weather moves in
and when the all-clear is sounded. Others say people should move away from
tents into buildings, but do not say which ones.
The remaining points give generic recommendations comparable to the advice
provided by TV forecasters or public-service announcements — “remain alert
to worsening conditions” and keep away from windows.
State fair spokesman Andy Klotz confirmed Tuesday that the one-page
statement is the event’s severe weather policy but declined to elaborate.
While the page is only part of an overall emergency plan, it’s far less
specific than the policies of some other state fairs and outdoor venues,
some of which have iron-clad rules about weather and stage construction.
Managers of the Bonnaroo music festival, which draws 80,000 people every
June to Manchester, Tenn., ask engineers to review and approve on-stage
sound and lighting equipment.
At the Nebraska State Fair, national acts perform in the Heartland Event
Center, a 7,000-seat indoor arena. Local acts perform on outdoor stages that
are made of welded steel columns with wood flooring.
And in Texas, the state fair’s main stage has 54,000 pounds of concrete to
help hold scaffolding, drapes, banners and other heavy equipment in place.
Texas fair spokeswoman Sue Gooding said the structure can withstand winds of
68 mph. When winds reach 30 mph, the public-address system and drapes are
taken down. If winds reach 40 mph, concerts are canceled and midway rides
Texas also contracts with private forecasters to monitor the weather.
Rick Tobin, president of Texas-based TAO Emergency Management Consulting,
said such specific weather-related “triggers” were a good idea.
“These charts are very brief, very specific and are non-negotiable,” Tobin
said in an email. “Once a fair agrees to them, they must be acted on without
The plan for the Indiana fair was drawn up by state police and approved by
fair officials. Before the fair opened, the procedures were circulated to
local emergency management officials at a briefing that included
Indianapolis police and fire officials, according to an emergency management
official who reviewed the plan. The official spoke on condition of anonymity
because he was not authorized to discuss the issue.
The emergency plan did not list any single person to coordinate decisions on
evacuations, the official said.
Firefighters who had doubts about the plan shared their concerns with Gary
Coons, Indianapolis homeland security director, who contacted state police,
the official said.
Coons said he never criticized anything the state police put together. “We
just extended our hand and said this is what we would do,” Coons said.
Fair officials said they have hired a New York engineering firm to
investigate the accident. The Thornton Tomasetti Inc. firm was involved in a
similar investigation of the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge over
the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.
Gov. Mitch Daniels on Tuesday called the state fair’s emergency plan a
“pretty well thought-through policy” but did not elaborate. The governor
also said he may support mandating limited inspections of temporary
structures like the state fair stage, which toppled onto a crowd of
concert-goers awaiting a show by the country duo Sugarland.
It remained unclear Tuesday whether anyone had inspected the stage, or if
anyone was supposed to do so.
The state Department of Homeland Security — which includes the state fire
marshal — said it did not inspect the stage.
In years past, a deputy state fire marshal has done site inspections of the
fair, including its stages.
, said the emergency official who spoke anonymously. He was unsure if an
inspection was conducted this year.
Klotz has said the fair’s executive director and an Indiana state police
captain were headed to the stage to order an evacuation when it collapsed.
Also Tuesday, fair officials said a fund set up for the victims of the stage
collapse has collected thousands of dollars. A tally of donations received
by the State Fair Remembrance Fund was expected within a couple of days.