Crowd safety expert: Fans should demand better safety standards


INDIANAPOLIS - The tragedy at the Indiana State Fair is now prompting calls for change not just in Indiana but nationwide.

Crowd safety expert Paul Wertheimer has seen the result of questionable standards, including blocked fire escapes, crushed concert-goers and now the collapse of stage rigging at the Indiana State Fair. In the Wall Street Journal, he calls the lack of consistency the "wild, wild, west."

"It's patchwork. The regulation and the standardization of safety at live entertainment events is patchwork. It changes from community to community," said Wertheimer.

He says what happened in Indianapolis should prompt fans nationwide to demand more.

"This is not good for the public - so you don't know when you go to an event if it's safe or not, from place to place especially across the country, and this problem should change," said Wertheimer.

75-year-old Gerald Lamkin and his wife were on the front row of the grandstand Saturday night as VIPs of the Fair Commission. The Former Ivy Tech State College president tells 13 Investigates he left the grandstands just before 8:30, before any announcement was made. A commission staff member was to give him a golf cart ride back to his car.

"They said the storm was coming in, if we wanted to leave, because they couldn't assure because the weather was getting bad that we could get out of there," he said.

Lamkin says he had only planned to stay for half of the show anyway. But by the time he got in the cart, the storm was upon him and worst yet, a stage was falling onto hundreds. Those concert-goers were left in the dark about the severity of the storms.

"Nothing dealing with the people most vulnerable to severe weather, and that was shocking and I believe your station broke that story," said Wertheimer.

He's talking about the State Fair's one-page severe thunderstorm policy. It failed to say who should initiate the evacuation or when for an outdoor crowd gathered outside the grandstands near the stage.

The announcement alerting crowds that a "thunderstorm warning has been issued" was never read.

"The evacuation plan was not up to any standard in the industry. It was deficient in an extraordinary way because it didn't address everybody at that event," said Wertheimer.

Lamkin says he hopes the investigation uncovers all the facts about what happened and what was said. He also gives the Fair Commission and Gov. Daniels high marks.

Not so for Wertheimer. He says the show should have been postponed or canceled. When the fair director and band manager didn't delay the concert, he says Indiana State Police should have stepped up in the name of public safety.