No Indiana agency appears to be responsible for regulation of massive rigging.
John Russell, Tim Evans and Heather Gillers
The rigging for the Indiana State Fair Grandstand stage lay crumpled Monday. / Danese Kenon / The Star
If you’re wondering which Indiana agency regulates the massive stage rigging at the State Fairgrounds, the answer is apparently none of them.
If you’re wondering how often the structures are inspected by the government, the answer is apparently never.
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security, which inspects buildings, elevators and amusement park rides, does not regulate outdoor stages and did not inspect the stage at the Indiana State Fair before heavy winds toppled the heavy structure onto a crowd Saturday night, said John Erickson, a Homeland Security Department spokesman.
Companies that erect outdoor concert stages are not required to obtain a state permit, submit engineering plans or undergo inspections, he said. The department also keeps no files on safety records or complaints.
“There is no permitting process,” Erickson said Monday. “There is no regulation on it. We do not regulate putting up of scaffolding in a business or an entertainment setting or anything of that type.”
Nor, apparently, does the Indiana State Fair, although the state does inspect the rides. State Fair spokesman Andy Klotz said Monday afternoon he was still trying to determine whether anyone looked at the stage rigging before the concert.
“I don’t know who’s responsible, if anyone,” Klotz said. “I’ve had conflicting information on this today.”
At the heart of the matter is how to classify a stage, rigging and roof, the elaborate structure that supports tons of lights, speakers and other heavy equipment high in the air.
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.”
Saturday’s accident was at least the fourth stage accident since the start of July, The Associated Press reports. Earlier this month, wind blew over a lighting rig at a music festival in Tulsa, Okla., and lightning toppled a stage under assembly near Quebec City. Last month, a summer gale toppled a stage at a music festival in Ottawa, Canada, where the band Cheap Trick was performing. Three people were hospitalized.
Indiana native Paul Harding, a fellow at the American Institute of Architects and partner in a Chicago architectural firm, called the lack of a building permit and inspections “a very serious problem.”
“If something is not permitted, the whole system is short-circuited,” he said. “You don’t have the checks and balances you would normally get with a project.”
He said his first reaction when he saw the photos of the stage before it fell was that it looked “unbelievably flimsy.”
“And after looking at the photographs of (structural pieces) after the collapse,” he said, “they seemed thinner and more delicate than you would expect for a structure like that.”
The owner of the company that provided the rigging, Mid-America Sound Corp. of Greenfield, is launching its own probe. Company officials did not return several phone calls requesting comment.
The company has hired an outside agency, Borshoff, to respond to media questions. The agency said that Mid-America has provided equipment for thousands of artists in hundreds of venues without a safety problem.
Concert industry expert George Strakis wouldn’t speculate on why a gust of wind was able to topple Mid-America’s stage structure at Saturday night’s concert at the Indiana State Fair.
But Strakis, an Indianapolis resident who has toured as Whitney Houston’s sound engineer for 22 years, could recap the deadly accident’s sequence of events.
“For whatever reason, the rigging buckled and weight shifted,” he said. “It went down face forward.”
Rigging for Grandstand concerts is a combination of metal framework that’s left in place throughout the fair, plus equipment added on by individual tours. The framework sits on a permanent concrete slab that acts as the stage floor.
Mid-America owns the superstructure framework. Sugarland’s tour, which visited the fair Saturday, brought its own speakers, lighting and a circular video screen as onstage production elements.
Strakis — who is not affiliated with the fair, Mid-America Sound or Sugarland — said tours of Sugarland’s scope routinely attach 50,000 pounds of gear to overhead trusses.
“I believe everybody that puts up a stage is going to understand they are going to put up a stage that can withstand a 70 to 100 mph blow,” Strakis said.
Strakis said all concert-production rigging is certified to aeronautical specifications, with the idea that aircraft in flight endure more stress than is encountered on the ground.
“This will need a lot of calculation,” he said, “to really understand what happened with this storm and the stage.”
In Chicago, those calculations are required to be submitted to city officials before a temporary stage is even erected. All temporary structures used there — including stages like the one at the fairgrounds — also require a permit, said Bill McCaffrey, spokesman for the city’s Department of Buildings.
In Chicago, the permitting process for stages is identical to that for all permanent buildings and structures, which requires the submission of architectural or structural engineering documentation. Those items are reviewed by professional staff to determine whether a permit can be granted, McCaffrey said.
Stages are then inspected by the department after they are erected, he said, “to make sure they were constructed according to the plan specifications.”
Stage manufacturers typically provide high-wind action plans that lay out steps that must be taken in the event of bad weather or high winds. Typically, he said, outdoor stages are designed to withstand wind speeds of at least 30 to 35 mph.
When wind speeds top a manufacturer’s recommended limits, the plans detail changes that should be taken for safety. For instance, McCaffrey said, stagehands may have to remove curtains or other objects that can be caught by the wind as speeds increase.
In Indianapolis, permits are required for stages used for special events, said Kate Johnson, spokeswoman for the Department of Code Enforcement. However, she said the city regulations do not cover the fairgrounds, which is state-owned, and the city has no jurisdiction over buildings on that property.
Regulations aside, the industry has best-practices standards for outdoor stage rigging.
Those standards are laid out in a 33-page document distributed by the trade association, PLASA, which bills itself as “the worldwide voice of entertainment technologies.” The group advises frequent inspections, particularly for rigging such as that at the Indiana State Fair that is left intact between uses.
Users of the overhead structures are advised to keep on hand an “operation management plan” that includes specific guidelines for wind. And the group recommends bracing the rigging against the wind with mechanisms such as wire guys anchored to ground anchors, diagonal braces and ballast applied to the tower sections.
When the rigging is left intact between events, PLASA advises inspection of cross-bracing cable assemblies and anchorages between each use.
“It would benefit public safety if some of the standards that are out there would be adopted into law,” said Bill Gorlin, a structural engineer and vice president of the entertainment division at McLaren Engineering Group, based in West Nyack, N.Y.
“Everyone wants these events to be safer.”
Several state agencies are investigating the collapse and aftermath, including the Indiana State Police, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Labor.
But there was no information Monday from those investigations. In fact, as of Monday afternoon, no companies had filed incident reports with the Department of Labor over workplace deaths, even though two workers were killed in the accident, said Chetrice Mosley, a spokeswoman for the state department.
Under Indiana law, they are required to notify the state within eight hours.
Star reporter David Lindquist contributed to this story.
Call Star reporter John Russell at (317) 444-6283. Follow him on Twitter @johnrussell99.