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April 25, 2012

Editorial - April 25, 2012: Stage rules right move

The folks in charge of fairs and festivals across the state are understandably concerned about the impact of rules aimed at preventing a repeat of last summer’s state fair tragedy.

The rules are set to take effect July 1, and at this point, nobody knows for sure what they will say.

State regulators, though, say they will do their best to strike a balance. They hope to write rules that will prevent another tragedy without putting small-town festivals and county fairs out of business.

The rules being drafted by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security would cover the kind of temporary stage rigging that fell into the crowd gathered for a Sugarland concert at last summer’s state fair.

While the language is still being written, we do know the new rules will require additional inspections, and they might require event organizers to pay for plans designed and approved by engineers.

Homeland Security officials hope to have a draft of the emergency rules written by early May so fair and festival organizers around the state will know what they’re facing when they go into effect July 1.

Officials note there has been some confusion over what the new rules will cover. Some media reports have incorrectly indicated they are for temporary outdoor stages, but those stages are already regulated.

The state fire marshal’s office routinely inspects temporary outdoor stages set up at fairs and festivals across the state.

What the rules did not regulate is the kind of temporary, overhead rigging that collapsed at the state fairgrounds. A report released April 12 by engineering and safety experts hired by the state found the rigging structure didn’t meet industry standards for high winds.

And because it was “structurally independent” from the stage, the rigging wasn’t inspected.

That’s the gap in regulations the new rules will aim to close.

Some might argue the rules are being rushed into place, but supporters note they can be reviewed and modified if proven unworkable or overly cumbersome.

The point is last summer’s tragedy uncovered a gap in Indiana’s regulatory process, and it’s important the state move to fill that gap.

Regulators are right to move ahead with the new rules – even if they do create a bit of uneasiness during the process.

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