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Indiana Fair’s Stage Collapse Raises Questions

August 15, 2011

Saturday night in Indianapolis was another tragic chapter in what has been a dreadfully dangerous summer of live concert experiences across the continent.

At least four people were killed and approximately 40 injured when the main performance stage at Indianapolis’ Indiana State Fairgrounds collapsed from the pressures of high winds.

Scenes like this should be the last of their kind if state governments and festival organizers heed the dangers of such large scale events and preapre accordingly in the future. (Image provided by Associated Press.)

The occurrence follows on the heels of a similar disaster in Ottawa, Canada in July, where a stage collapsed from strong winds at the Ottawa Bluesfest. Miraculously, that incident only ended with one injury. Not to be forgotten…on August 8th, a 15-foot video screen was toppled by high winds prior to a Flaming Lips performance in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

And yet, Saturday night’s accident in Indianapolis is a painful reminder of the opposite side of the spectrum, when festival-goers may not be as fortunate.

People attending the show in Indiana, who were awaiting a performance by country group Sugarland when the stage collapsed, have since reported that festival announcers alerted crowds of the possibility of severe weather in the area, and yet, also noted that organizers ‘hoped the show would go on,’ inciting many fans to remain in their positions.

The VIP section adjacent to center stage was most vulnerable. Dozens of organizers, fans and rescue officers rushed to the scene shortly after the collapse and began lifting the heavy structures off of buried fans.

These incidents will undoubtedly raise questions about the future of large events such as these; most importantly the precautions in crowd spacing from large structures, mainly stages, and the stability of said objects.

The past is no different.

On December 3, 1979, the Who were slated to perform at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio when 11 people were killed when organizers allowed the masses to rush for allotted seating from the entrance. Following the occurrence, festival seating was outlawed in Cincinnati until 2004. A Guns N’ Roses concert in August of 1988 produced similar results, when two fans at a show in Donnington, England were killed as crowds pushed violently towards the stage at the onset of the performance.

Over the years, large-scale concerts and festivals have made an evolution, perhaps too slowly, towards the protection of their countless guests.

While I’m no master of construction, increased stability and perhaps even state-mandated inspection of stage structures should come first. The fact that so many stages have collapsed under storm winds this summer should be a notice of their inability to provide a safe viewing environment for attendees.

Second, organizers should increasingly prepare evacuation routes for crowds in the event that a collapse is possible. While building a stage that can withstand the highest winds mother nature can muster is practically impossible, the ability to relocate crowds in a safe and effective manner is plausible. Reactions by the Bonnaroos, Coachellas and Lollapaloozas of the world will dictate the future of concert safety.

In the meantime, pray for the victims and families in Indianapolis who lost their loved ones on a night that should have been ingrained in beautiful memories.

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