State fair's plan short on evacuation details

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

An emergency response plan drafted 10 months before the Indiana State Fair's deadly stage collapse details how staff should handle evacuations, but it doesn't spell out the precise scenarios that would trigger an evacuation, newly released documents indicate.

The 71-page emergency plan released Wednesday by fair officials describes more than a dozen situations, including severe weather, shootings and fires, that would prompt fair officials to activate their emergency protocols. But the exact conditions that would require the need for an evacuation are not clearly defined in the document, which leaves the final decision on evacuations up to fair officials.

"It really comes down to a matter of judgment," fair spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland said.

Fair officials released the plan, along with numerous other documents related to the company that installed the stage rigging and an insurance policy, in response to public records requests from The Associated Press and other media outlets.

On Aug. 13, as fairgoers awaited the scheduled start of a concert by country music duo Sugarland, stage riggings collapsed as high winds swept into Indianapolis ahead of a severe storm. Four people were killed immediately, and three later died from their injuries.

Dozens of others were injured, and several face long recoveries, including a young mother who remains in a coma, a 10-year-old girl who suffered a brain injury and a teenage tennis player with a spine injury.

Two days after the collapse, fair officials said fair executive director Cindy Hoye and a state trooper were headed toward the stage to order an evacuation when the rigging toppled and narrowly missed Hoye.

Kenneth J. Allen, an attorney who's suing on behalf of some stage collapse victims, said Wednesday that the fair's emergency response plan, which was drafted in October 2010, was shortsighted and played a role in what he called a preventable tragedy.

"This is a very foreseeable disaster. We know what the weather can be like this time of year in central Indiana. We know that those winds are sufficient to cause this kind of an episode. And they knew specifically that those winds and that storm was heading directly for the fair," he said.

McFarland, the fair spokeswoman, declined to comment on Allen's statements and noted that the state has hired Witt Associates, a Washington-based public safety and crisis management firm, to analyze the fair's preparedness and response to the stage collapse.

"That question will have to be answered when Witt Associates has finished their investigation," she said.

Allen said he was disturbed by a portion of the emergency plan that spells out how staff should handle the aftermath of a fair emergency. One section focusing on emergency communications states: "Remember the big picture! The crisis will end and you want to resume 'business as usual' as quickly as possible."

He said it appeared to him to focus more on the goal of keeping fair events running than on preventing harm to fairgoers.

The fair closed for one day after the collapse, then reopened with a memorial service for the victims. State officials including Gov. Mitch Daniels stressed that the incident didn't change the fair's reputation as "the finest event of its kind in America."

McFarland said the wording in the emergency plan's communication section on what staff should or not say to fairgoers after an emergency comes from the general guidance of how to handle crisis management.

"That's kind of the general template guidance you'll find in a number of crisis communication textbooks and expert publications," she said.

An insurance policy released Wednesday by fair officials insured the fair for business losses in the event that evening concerts scheduled during four days of the 17-day fair were rained out.

That policy insured the fair for up to $1.45 million if all of those concerts were rained out, but contained no provision for severe weather such as winds and lightning. It specifies that the fair could claim up to $355,000 in losses if rains had canceled the Sugarland and other concerts scheduled for Aug. 13, the day of the stage collapse.

McFarland said the precipitation that night was not enough to meet the policy's criteria, of rainfall of a third of an inch or more.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. I never thought I'd see the day when a Republican Mayor would lead the charge in attempting to raise every tax we have to pay. Now it's income taxes and property taxes that Ballard wants to increase. And to pay for a pre-K program? Many studies have shown that pre-K offer no long-term educational benefits whatsoever. And Ballard is pitching it as a way of fighting crime? Who is he kidding? It's about government provided day care. It's a shame that we elected a Republican who has turned out to be a huge big spending, big taxing, big borrowing liberal Democrat.

  2. Why do we blame the unions? They did not create the 11 different school districts that are the root of the problem.

  3. I was just watching an AOW race from cleveland in 1997...in addition to the 65K for the race, there were more people in boats watching that race from the lake than were IndyCar fans watching the 2014 IndyCar season finale in the Fontana grandstands. Just sayin...That's some resurgence modern IndyCar has going. Almost profitable, nobody in the grandstands and TV ratings dropping 61% at some tracks in the series. Business model..."CRAZY" as said by a NASCAR track general manager. Yup, this thing is purring like a cat! Sponsors...send them your cash, pronto!!! LOL, not a chance.

  4. I'm sure Indiana is paradise for the wealthy and affluent, but what about the rest of us? Over the last 40 years, conservatives and the business elite have run this country (and state)into the ground. The pendulum will swing back as more moderate voters get tired of Reaganomics and regressive social policies. Add to that the wave of minority voters coming up in the next 10 to 15 years and things will get better. unfortunately we have to suffer through 10 more years of gerrymandered districts and dispropionate representation.

  5. Funny thing....rich people telling poor people how bad the other rich people are wanting to cut benefits/school etc and that they should vote for those rich people that just did it. Just saying..............