By Fred Durso, Jr.
For NFPA Journal July/August 2012
On August 13, 2011, the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis was in full swing, and a flurry of activity was occurring on the 250-acre (101.2-hectare) site. At the outdoor Hoosier Lottery Grandstand Stage, where the popular country group Sugarland was scheduled to perform at 8 p.m., workers were building a large structure — roughly 107 feet (32.6 meters) long, 57 feet (17.4 meters) wide, and 56 feet (17.1 meters) high — over the stage for suspended spotlights and other sound and lighting equipment.
About a half block from the grandstand stage, at the Indiana State Fairgrounds’ Joint Operations Center, a worker was responsible for contacting the National Weather Service (NWS) for frequent forecast updates while the fair was in progress. Forecasts that day called for potentially severe weather for central Indiana. After one NWS update, the worker jotted down a brief note: “If it organizes, strong winds and possible hail.”
By 6 p.m., Sugarland fans were already claiming their spots in front of the stage and in the nearby grandstand. It was also around the time that the NWS issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Marion County, which includes Indianapolis, since the impending storm had produced quarter-sized hail and 60-mile-per-hour (97-kilometer-per-hour) winds in other parts of the state. The public safety and logistics director for the Indiana State Fair Commission (ISFC), which oversees fairground operations, sent out an alert via ISFC’s notification system: “These are severe storms. We will experience heavy rain, possible high winds, and some lightning. These storms should be here between 9:00 and 9:30.”
Watch an interview with NFPA staff writer Fred Durso, Jr. talking about the Indiana State Fair stage collapse and NFPA’s codes and standards used to enhance emergency management.
Read the full feature on NFPA.org.