Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Opinion

April 18, 2012

Editorial: April 18, 2012 - Let’s require storm plans

The issue: Festival safety.

Our view: Kokomo and Howard County should require emergency plans from organizers before issuing permits for outdoor events.

 

Minutes before 59 mph winds toppled a state fair stage Aug. 13, Indiana State Police Capt. Brad Weaver asked the fair’s executive director to postpone the performance of the duo, Sugarland.

“We need to call this. We need to call this off,” Weaver apparently told fair director Cindy Hoye. She agreed, but it was too late.

As they were making their way to announce their decision to the crowd, the stage rigging collapsed. Dozens of concertgoers were injured. Seven died.

That’s what Kenneth Mallette of Witt Associates told the Indiana State Fair Commission Thursday. The emergency planning adviser, hired to investigate last summer’s tragedy, said the fair’s disaster preparedness was inadequate.

Even before Witt’s findings were released, the calamity caused fair boards across the state to examine their own emergency plans. Howard County authorities and 4-H Fair organizers recently announced how they would evacuate thousands of revelers if severe weather approaches the fairgrounds July 9-14.

Emergency Management Agency director Larry Smith has long-advocated such precautions, particularly after severe storms in 2010 blew through the Howard County Relay for Life event and shut down Ribfest. Those potentially dangerous situations uncovered a hole in the permitting process for local festivals: There’s no official criteria for stopping an event for safety reasons.

Smith told the Howard County commissioners two years ago his agency issues storm warnings to event organizers. He said there have been instances when those warnings were ignored.

To correct such oversight, Smith suggested Kokomo and Howard County require a plan for getting people to safety before issuing permits for outdoor festivals. The city and county should adopt – finally – Smith’s proposal.

But if the state fair tragedy has taught Hoosiers anything, it’s this: Ignoring weather warnings can imperil safety. Kenneth Mallette told the state fair commission Thursday weather conditions had been a topic of discussion and analysis throughout the day of Aug. 13.

The decision to stop the concert wasn’t made in time to save seven lives.

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