PLSN — May 2012
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Reports Cite “Ambiguityof Authority,” RiggingFlaws in Indiana StateFair Staging Collapse

INDIANAPOLIS — Reports by Witt Associates (Washington, DC) and Thornton Tomasetti (New York) released April 12 cited “ambiguity of authority” and inadequate wire and concrete anchor reinforcement as key factors in the Aug. 13, 2011 staging collapse at the Indiana State Fair that killed seven and injured 40.

Also last month, Sugarland band members provided private video depositions from West Virginia, countering the January testimony of the fair’s executive director, Cindy Hoye, who asserted that band members had resisted postponing the show due to weather.

The report from Witt Associates pointed to several factors that led to the show not being canceled, including a lack of effective emergency planning, indecision and breakdowns in communications among those in charge.

“The plans in place were not fully developed, and what they had was not followed,” stated Charlie Fisher, vice president of Witt Associates, in news reports.

Despite the report’s criticism, no fair officials have been disciplined or reprimanded since the staging collapse. Indiana governor Mitch Daniels has spoken out in support of both the state fair’s chairman, Andre Lacy and Hoye. Lacy added that while Hoye has offered to resign, he has not accepted the offer, citing his confidence in her abilities and a greater concern for future safety than for assigning blame for past events.

The Witt Associates report also noted a dearth of information about the stage’s ability to withstand strong winds — “no records, documentation, plans, engineering reports or related technical data,” and a communications gap between Hoye and those who had been monitoring the weather all day, including news of the severe thunderstorm warning issued at 8:39 pm, more than 10 minutes before the stage collapsed.

The Thornton Tomasetti report zeroed in on the design, assembly and safeguards of the temporary staging structure, and found shortcomings in the way the structure was braced against the wind. By the time the winds had reached 33 mph, the “Jersey barriers” securing the structure began to shift and slide. At 43 mph, the anchors had slid so far that the structure was no longer self-supporting.

Although wind-catching tarps were a contributing factor to the collapse, the report noted that a properly-anchored four-post structure might have been able to withstand winds of up to 68 mph.

The Indiana state government, which operates the fair, commissioned both reports, and Daniels called for the “immediate and complete implementation” of its findings. He also noted that Indiana won’t hesitate to share the reports with others staging similar events to help them learn from the tragedy.