Indiana State Fair Stage Collapse Commentary

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I am saddened by the loss of life and suffering that occurred in Indianapolis this weekend (see video from CNN below). There have been a number of other stage roof collapses over the past few years, and I am sure that many people are asking what can be done about this situation.

Since I wrote my article in 2008 regarding wind loads on temporary structures, I have not seen significant progress the adoption of the existing E1.21 standard by authorities having jurisdiction. Awareness of the standard and other best practices in the industry has been improving but perhaps not as rapidly as it should.

Standards for the entertainment industry in the US are developed by PLASA (formerly ESTA). PLASA is an international organization that is actively involved in the development of standards worldwide. In North America, PLASA leads the ANSI-accredited Technical Standards Program, which is responsible for developing standards and recommended practices that facilitate the use of equipment and promote safe working conditions in the industry.

There has been a great deal of progress in the PLASA standards writing efforts. Standard E1.21 “Entertainment Technology - Temporary Ground-Supported Structures Used to Cover the Stage Areas and Support Equipment in the Production of Outdoor Entertainment Events” is in the process of being revised and expanded by the PLASA Rigging Working Group to address all temporary structures for technical production of outdoor entertainment events. The proposed updated document is in draft form and will likely be offered for public review in the near future. I strongly urge interested parties to review this draft document when it becomes available on the PLASA website.

Use of these standards is on a volunteer basis unless they are required by authorities having jurisdiction, such as states or municipalities. E1.21 and many of the other standards pertaining to entertainment uses have not been referenced by the building codes, in particular, the International Building Code (IBC), that serves as the model building code for most of the United States. Building codes provide little guidance with regard to temporary structures, which I feel often results in situations that are either overly onerous or insufficiently safe.

While I am not in a position to comment on the specifics of any of the recent stage failures, I can say that future safety will be significantly improved if the provisions of the standard are better understood and employed. An operations management plan for each event, that is developed and used in accordance with E1.21, is as important as the roof truss load rating sheet and assembly details. Not only does our industry need to become more familiar with and embrace this and other technical standards, but we need to promote them with event producers, promoters, building officials, lawmakers, and insurance representatives.

William B. Gorlin is vice president, Entertainment Division, for McLaren Engineering Group, based in West Nyack, NY.

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