Bridging Gap Between Fun And Safety

New safety rules governing temporary outdoor stages have been developed in Indiana in the wake of last summer’s State Fair tragedy and, while precise protocols of emergency authority and evacuations are established, the jury is out over whether artists and production crews will be as pleased with other aspects of the rules.

The Indiana State Fair Commission initially released a 425-page report based on the recommendations of Witt Associates via PowerPoint presentation. The document is considered a final draft, “however, it is a living document,” the Commission said.

Numerous interested parties met with Indiana officials in the drafting of the regulations, including the Event Safety Alliance. It’s not clear if all recommendations were accepted by the Commission, nor if participants were necessarily aware of directions the new rules might take.

Taste of Tippecanoe in Lafayette, Ind., is the first event in the state to operate under the new inspection guidelines and stage requirements. New at the festival are the additions of barriers and steel fencing keeping the audience more than 20 feet from four of five stages, and other precautions in the name of fan safety.

“Law requires that whatever the height of the stage, add 8 feet to set the distance from the stage,” Taste of Tippecanoe organizer Scott Freeman said. “People can’t press up against the stage now. That’s the law.”

Four of Taste’s five stages stand at 20 feet at their highest point, meaning that barricades can be set up no closer than 28 feet from the stage, about the equivalent of two car lengths.

However, for major outdoor events – like the Indiana State Fair’s grandstand series last year – stages can reach as high as 60 feet. According to the state’s new formula, audiences would have to be kept, either by barricade or fencing, almost 70 feet from the edge of the stage, creating a gaping empty space right in front of the performing artist.

Other venues, even some outside of Indiana, are looking at adjustments to the outdoor concert experience. Some are railing the end of stages, others fencing off grandstand tracks from “pit” areas, and emergency evacuation plans are being reviewed all over the country. But back in Indiana, plans are now being put to the test.

“Since we’re the first festival out, we just need to work through this,” Freeman said. “We all need to be working off the same playbook. All of the festivals need to be on the same playing field. Out of the gate, we’re trying to set the bar really high with where the new guidelines can be.”