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When the roof collapsed on August 13, 2011, on the temporary stage constructed for a Sugarland concert at the Indiana State Fair, event management personnel saw their worst nightmare come to life. Seven people died as high winds took hold of the stage and pushed it over onto the crowd; another 58 spectators suffered injuries, some of them severe.
What made this accident particularly horrifying was the ease with which it could have been prevented. The investigation conducted by the engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti revealed that “the failure … was due to the inadequate capacity of the lateral load resisting system, which was comprised of guy lines connected to concrete ‘Jersey barrier’ ballast.” The Jersey barriers simply weren’t heavy enough to hold the structure in place in a high wind. No engineering review of the rigging plot had taken place before it was installed, and the installation did not match the directions provided by James Thomas Engineering (JTE), the manufacturer of the structure.
Perhaps the most important finding was this: The Indiana State Fair Commission staff did not have the appropriate information or knowledge about the structure to evaluate its use. Combine this with an ambiguous chain of command—so no one had the authority to cancel the show when the National Weather Service predicted a major storm—and the structure became a literal disaster waiting to happen.
Every municipality wants to avoid this kind of accident, but most do not have the knowledge to ask the right questions on site. To compensate, some local governments have begun to put together their own event guidelines, to give inspectors and other safety personnel a starting point in judging whether a structure will hold up in adverse conditions.
Creating these standards requires special expertise, however, and many local governments do not have this at their disposal. Happily, there is a better solution—one with the approval of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
PLASA is a non-profit trade association for the entertainment technology industry, whose members include top experts in rigging, staging, lighting, sound, and effects. They share your goal: Bring your audiences a great show at which everyone—the audience, the performers, and the crew members—has a wonderful time and goes home safely.
To this end, PLASA’s Technical Standards Program has developed ANSI-accredited standards for the safe use of several different forms of entertainment technology. These standards are available to you free of charge, saving municipalities the effort and cost of developing similar standards of their own.
Two of these standards are of special interest to municipalities and Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs):
“The process of creating these standards took nearly a decade,” said Mike Garl, president of Tomcat USA, who co-chairs the PLASA Technical Standards Council. Garl is the former president of James Thomas Engineering, which manufactured the temporary stage used at the 2011 Indiana State Fair.
“Over the years, we assembled a smart group of people,” Garl said. The Rigging Working Group included manufacturers, rental companies, production companies, installers, specifiers, structural engineers, and end users of temporary staging equipment.
“We wrote good documents and sent them out for public review,” Garl said. “We used the best information and best input from all the people who have a stake in these subjects.”
“One of the keys to these standards documents is their usability by people who are not experts in the entertainment technology field,” Garl noted. “A lot of the people who need to know about this equipment really don’t. We want to give them guidance on what to look for in terms of structure and operations management plans. For example, the standard requires that engineering analysis be done for certain kinds of systems or performances. This documentation should be on site. The inspector should be able to say, ‘I need to see your engineering.’”
“We want to make it easier for an outside entity to come in and inspect the equipment,” said Bill Sapsis, president of Sapsis Rigging, Inc., and chair of PLASA’s Rigging Working Group. “That person may be from the municipality; the building inspector or maybe the fire marshal. The standard helps the inspector ask the right people for the right documentation, including the structural information, on that particular rig.”
With the PLASA standards in hand, inspectors will know what questions to ask production companies in advance of events:
The need for a clearly stated Operations Management Plan cannot be overemphasized, said Garl. “There must be a weather monitoring system,” he said. “You can’t always lower the whole system, because there may be lights and scenery on it. But you can tell exactly when you need to get everyone away from the system, and how much room you need around it so no one gets hurt if it falls. Equipment may get damaged, but equipment isn’t people.”
To view a list of available standards, visit tsp.plasa.org/tspdocuments. To receive your free copy, email us at [email protected] Please include your name, your position, and where you work.
“What it all boils down to is getting everybody on the same page,” Sapsis concluded. “The biggest hurdle is making sure the information is in the right people’s hands. If you follow it, you have a much stronger chance of avoiding the kinds of problems they had in Indiana.”
Author: Karl G. Ruling is PLASA’s Technical Standards Manager and the senior technical editor of PROTOCOL Magazine, the entertainment technology journal.