ISF Makes Management Changes, Hires COO

The Indiana State Fair Commission on May 11 announced management changes spurred by last summer’s deadly stage rigging collapse, including the retirement of a longtime employee who was noted in a report about the accident.

The other moves include the hiring of a new chief operating officer and a new director of safety and security for the fairgrounds. They follow commission members’ vote last month to make management changes recommended by consultants who investigated the Aug. 13 disaster that killed seven people and injured dozens more.

Those consultants found that the stage rigging that toppled onto a crowd awaiting a concert by the country duo Sugarland didn’t meet industry safety standards and that the fair’s emergency plan was inadequate and resulted in confusion about who was in charge.

Officials on Thursday quietly announced the retirement of fairgrounds facilities manager Dave Hummel, who was noted in a report that criticized confusion among fair officials over their responsibilities. A news release said Hummel’s retirement was “part of restructuring state fair staff.”

As facilities manager, Hummel was in charge of building maintenance and event services such as concessions, admissions and parking, commission spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland said. Those duties would have included the grandstand where the Sugarland concert was to be held.

The Associated Press was unable to reach Hummel for comment Thursday. His home phone number was not in published listings, and an office number was disconnected.

McFarland said she did not believe Hummel was forced out. “He wanted to retire at this point. My understanding is that Dave has been considering retiring for some time,” she told the AP. She said Hummel had worked for the fair for three decades or more.

But she also said all of the organizational changes came in response to the investigations of the accident.

A report by emergency preparation experts from Washington-based Witt Associates criticized “a lack of oversight or responsibility for the ISFC’s contracts with its contractors,” including the contract with the company that owned and built the stage rigging that later collapsed. The report said Hummel and other fair officials tried to pin responsibility for the contract on each other during interviews a month after the disaster.

The report also said that Hummel’s position had authority over fair security, and that while he had “heard” of the fair’s existing emergency response plan, he “was not aware of his position’s specific responsibilities in the plan.”

Officials also announced Thursday that David Shaw would start work May 21 as chief operating officer for the fairgrounds, overseeing day-to-day operations. Shaw said his “job one” would be to “go to school” on consultants’ reports that recommended ways to improve safety at the fair.

Putting Shaw’s plan for improving safety into place will be the job of Jessie Olvera, the fair’s new director of safety and security. Olvera previously worked as a training and exercise coordinator for what is now the Indianapolis Division of Homeland Security, and helped the city develop and implement its comprehensive emergency management plan, officials said. Commission Chairman Andre Lacy said Olvera would also supervise safety-related employee training and public safety.

The state fair this year “will be the safest it’s ever been. … I guarantee that,” Olvera told the commission during Thursday’s meeting.

Shaw, a Noblesville, Ind., native and Ball State University graduate, has previously managed several entertainment venues, including three outdoor amphitheaters in the Chicago and Milwaukee area.

Lacy said one of Shaw’s most important tasks will be to develop an emergency response protocol for various events and venues at the fairgrounds. Investigators concluded that the fair’s existing protocol was unclear and resulted in confusion about who was in charge.

McFarland said the final decision to order an evacuation would be up to the chief operating officer.

Shaw will report to the fair’s executive director, Cindy Hoye, who’s been criticized for not evacuating concert fans ahead of severe weather. Lacy said Hoye will remain in charge of “vision” and strategy for the fair.

McFarland said Shaw would be paid $95,000 a year, while Olvera would receive a $58,000 salary.

Lacy said Hummel would be replaced by Ray Allison, who had been the fair’s director of safety and security.