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Daniels: Indiana moving to adopt outdoor stage rules

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Gov. Mitch Daniels told an entertainment industry group pushing for safer outdoor events Monday that Indiana has learned from last year's deadly State Fair stage collapse and is moving to approve emergency rules for outdoor stages.

But Daniels conceded the state still has much to learn from the Event Safety Alliance, an ad hoc group, that is urging the music and live events industry to adopt established best practices for protecting people at outdoor events.

On Monday, the group brought its campaign to Indianapolis, where about 100 people— including state officials — attended the meeting at the state's government complex. Daniels told the gathering they would find "no more avid and attentive and receptive a student" than the state of Indiana in light of the Aug. 13 stage rigging collapse that killed seven people and injured dozens more before a scheduled Sugarland concert.

"We're going to go to school on those things you have to tell us and we'll try to master them and learn them and apply them as well as any jurisdiction anywhere," the governor said.

Jim Digby, the executive director and co-founder of the Event Safety Alliance, said August's tragedy reflects a global problem. He noted that three other fatal accidents marred outdoor events last summer, including the deaths of five people in Belgium who were killed when tents and scaffolding toppled during a music festival just days after the Indiana incident.

"Make no mistake, this is the single most important issue facing our industry," said Digby, the production manager for rock band Linkin Park.

Digby said the alliance has been granted use of an event safety guide that's been in place in the United Kingdom for about 20 years that's commonly called "The Purple Guide," and members are working to adopt and refine that document's accumulated knowledge into a U.S. version to help guide the wide-ranging American entertainment industry to create "a multi-lateral culture of safety first."

"It's very clear that a single-source document would allow for a common language between all responsible entities," he said.

The first version of the U.K. safety planning guide was drafted following a 1989 double fatality at a concert, said Tim Roberts, who helped create the best practice rules. Roberts, the director and safety advisor for Event Safety Shop Ltd., said the guide has been updated twice and continues to evolve.

"I can't say that the U.K. has got this absolutely right — there's always stuff to learn. And I think the pain that was felt here in Indianapolis was shared around the world. The international production community is a very small community," he said.

Two investigative reports released this month on the Indiana tragedy found that the stage rigging that collapsed in high winds did not meet industry safety standards and that fair officials lacked a fully developed emergency plan.

Daniels said the Indiana Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission will meet May 2 to discuss proposed emergency rules for outdoor stage rigging and related structures — rules required under legislation he signed into law last month.

Homeland Security Executive Director Joe Wainscott said it's unclear whether the commission will vote to approve those rules or if the panel's members might seek changes and approve the rules at their next meeting. But, he said, he expects the board will move quickly given that fair and festival season has arrived.

"I think they understand that there are events coming up for the summer and we need these rules," Wainscott said.

Daniels said state fire and building inspection officials aren't waiting for the new rules and are actively canvassing venues around the state to assess stage rigging setups. Local emergency officials have also been advised to conduct their own assessments.

"As far as we're concerned, we are on full and maximum alert now, knowing what we know now," Daniels said.

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