Thursday, August 18, 2011

Indiana State Fair Official Ignored Meteorologist's Advice To Delay Concert

Local meteorologist Paul Poteet is speaking up about the advice he gave State Fair Grounds Director Cindy Hoye last Saturday evening on the question of whether to proceed with last Saturday night's Sugarland concert in light of severe thunderstorms moving into the Indianapolis area. Poteet told Fox 59 News' Marisela Burgos that he had a conversation with Hoye at about 8:15 p.m. during which he advised that fair officials should delay the start of the concert:

"I pointed out the radar, the line of storms on the radar, and mentioned there had been, you know, a string of severe thunderstorm warnings already - in fact, west and to the northwest of those storms," Poteet said.
Poteet mentioned at the time the National Weather Service had reports of wind gusts about 60 miles per hour. 
"It didn't look like Indianapolis was going to escape, you know, a thunderstorm -rain, thunder and lightning," Poteet said.
Poteet said he thought the storm would get into the area between 8:45p.m. and 9p.m. or a little bit after that. He said Cindy Hoye asked him whether they whould start or delay the show. 
"The best course of action would be to wait it out, delay it, wait and let the storm pass through," he said.
Despite Poteet's opinion and a warning from the National Weather Service, fair officials never made the call to cancel the show and a half hour later, they sent an emcee onto the stage only telling people where they could seek shelter if the weather got too bad. Governor Mitch Daniels said he has ordered the Indiana State Fair Commission to investigate the decisions made that night. "All the questions being asked are the right ones and appropriate. There are a lot of facts still uncertain," Governor Daniels said.
Governor Daniels said they'll look at the structure of the stage and the reaction/response of the people who were there Saturday night.
"I'm not saying they were handled correctly or incorrectly. I don't know. Honestly, I think nobody has enough facts to come up with a conclusion yet," Governor Daniels said.
Fair officials have said when they were going to announce an evacuation a gust of wind blew through the fairgrounds.
When the investigations are completed, it looks like blame will be shared by the improvident decision of state fair officials to ignore approaching dangerous weather conditions for an outdoor concert and the use of aging stage rigging equipment that was not properly braced or load-balanced to withstand high wind conditions. As I pointed out yesterday, Illinois State Fair officials are saying the disaster that occurred at the Indiana State Fair would never happen at their fair because of the obvious differences in their modern stage rigging equipment compared to that used by Indiana State Fair officials and the fact that it cancels concerts when similar weather conditions exist. The overhead canopy of Illinois' stage rigging equipment can be lowered during high winds, and employees actually monitor the weight acts propose to hang from the rigging to ensure the load balance is appropriate to avoid making it unstable. Illinois fair officials actually lowered its overhead stage rigging when the same weather system that hit Indianapolis Saturday night moved through Springfield earlier in the afternoon.


Indiana said...

I used to work in the industry years ago. Just for a point - Mid-Americas Rig can be raised or lowered. I can't say for 100%, but I believe it is made by the same company as the Illinois rig. 90% of the rigs that are of this league are Thomas Truss. In fact, I wouldn't trust anything that was not Thomas Truss, they set the standard for the business. In fact this rig was beefed up in 2006 (see ).

Gary R. Welsh said...

Thanks for sharing, Indiana. The rig looks a bit different in terms of how the legs are configured to support it, although the Indiana rig actually looks like it is better supported. The video, however, shows the legs supporting the structure buckling beneath it, which suggests a serious load balance issue with the structure. I've had that problem before with the legs on metal shelfing buckling and collapsing the entire shelfing structure when weight was added to unevenly, throwing off its balance, even without wind being a factor.

Indiana said...

Again - outside looking in but the fabric top is made to rip away in a wind situtation. You can't lace it to the structure without using certian strength rope - no wire ties or anything like that. It looks like the top edge broke free popped up and then acted like a sail and never completely let go. That "sail" would put to much stress and the failures would start.

I was talking to a friend who tours with a large pro audio company and he said there have been three top failures this season (Indiana being the worst). It happens. Usually people aren't around because they have been told to leave.......which brings us back to the title of your post.

I feel for Mid-America. They have to play a balance for the truss, what the customer wants (State Fair), what the artist wants and so on.

Regardless, it all comes back to weather. The wind caused the rig to fail. Should the rig be made to handle a greater windspeed? Was the rig mis-loaded? Wind still took it down.

Gary R. Welsh said...

According to Illinois fair officials, whenever weather is approaching with high winds, the overhead canopy is lowered as a precaution. The stage operator had to know of the approaching bad weather with high winds and chose not to order its rigging lowered. If you own the equipment and are liable for harm it causes to others, not to mention the fact that you risk the destruction of your own equipment if you fail to act, then the prudent thing would have been to have lowered the overhead canopy whether state fair officials wanted that done or not. Just like the band would have told fair officials they weren't stepping foot on that stage until the bad weather passed. They would risk injury due to electrical shock if the wind blew rain into the stage area. I would be curious to know if Sugarland had communicated at any point to state fair officials in those last minutes leading up to the storm whether they would actually take the stage.

Indiana said...

What I would love your take on is the story from IBJ:

This line caught me:

Because of a state law that limits individual damage claims against the state to $700,000 and overall claims to $5 million per event, several other entities besides the state fair might become targets of negligence lawsuits, legal experts say. They could include the designer and builder of the stage or even the promoter of the concert, according to lawyers.

Gary R. Welsh said...

No question but that plaintiffs' lawyers, if they are doing their jobs, will name the operator of the stage equipment as a defendant, charging negligence. The only way I could see the band's promoter being named was if it insisted on the concert going forward, but as I understand it, these concerts are insured to cover potential losses in the event of bad weather. Not sure of the specifics of how that insurance operates. If something was shown by the engineering firm's investigation to have been defective with the stage equipment as manufactured, the manufacturer could also be liable. The state initially has to be quickly named as a defendant because of the short period of notice under the tort claims against governmental entities statute.