Homeland Security: Permit wasn't required for collapsed rigging

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INDIANAPOLIS - Homeland Security tells Eyewitness News a permit was not required for the rigging that collapsed, drawing questions of whether it was ever inspected.

The Indiana State Fair stage collapse is hauntingly similar to a stage collapse just weeks ago in Ottawa, Canada. Violent wind gusts toppled the main stage moments after a Cheap Trick concert was canceled.

The Ottawa stage fell away from the crowd and no one was killed. Indiana concert goers weren't so lucky.

13 Investigates has uncovered two emerging issues in the local investigation. First is the evacuation plan.

The Indiana Occupational Safety & Health Administration (IOSHA) says every major venue from Lucas Oil to the Indiana State Fair must have one.

"We're going to look at a whole host of things, what they were trained for, what the employees were doing, did the employer take adequate precautions to maintain a safe workplace," said Jeff Carter, Deputy Commissioner at IOSHA.

The National Weather Service put out a Severe Thunderstorm Watch at 5:57pm Saturday . A watch is a recommendation for planning, preparation and awareness for a possible emergency.

At 8:39 a warning was issued, indicating the need to take action to protect life and property.

See a timeline of events.

Concert-goers said they were not told to take emergency cover. Behind the scenes, plans to evacuate came minutes too late. The scaffolding collapsed at 8:49.

"I think they're going to be looking back and saying, 'Maybe we should have gotten those folks out of harm's way sooner'," said Mike Seidel of The Weather Channel.

The fair's director says they thought the storm was farther away and were just about to take the stage to order evacuations when the wind took the stage down.

"I believe if there was a written policy for a time frame, we would not have been sitting in the grandstands when that stadium collapsed," said witness Jared Harris.

Harris, an aspiring nurse, ran into the infield to help the wounded. He says more advanced warning, "It would have decreased the numbers of people injured, if not none of the people would have got injured. We would have all been safe in the Pepsi Coliseum."

"We look at disaster plans. Some of those are very complex and very involved, especially where there's general public and employees involved because you can't just evacuate your employees and not worry about the general public," Carter told 13 Investigates.

Troubling questions remain about the structure itself.

No inspection?

State Police, IOSHA, and independent engineers all want to know what caused the stage to topple. But no one can say if anyone inspected it prior to Saturday's collapse.

"That's outside of the regulatory scheme of what we do. That's more of a local building code type inspection, a determination of if it's a safe device," explained Carter.

"There should be someone who is going to take a look at the structure, keep an eye on it and make sure everything is in place correctly," said home inspector Keith Bentley.

Bentley has inspected homes and other structures for more than 30 years and can't imagine something so high in the air was constructed without supporting cross bars.

"You get to a certain height and you need cables from top to ground, and all around to keep it from going anyway," he said.

Read a civil engineer's comments on the structure.

Under State building code, temporary structures must meet structural strength and fire safety requirements for a permit.

But this afternoon, a spokesman with Indiana Homeland Security said a permit was not required for the stage, and that neither Homeland Security nor the State Fire Marshal did an inspection.

In a written response, Indiana Homeland Security says it has "authority to inspect venues for proper exiting, fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems and proper use of electricity." Eyewitness News asked if it will now inspect stages like this. It said they "will continue with inspections within our authority."

"We need structures to be sound. All structures, be they temporary or permanent," said State Sen James Merritt (R-Indianapolis).

But Merritt wants to see the results of the investigation first. Were there problems with the structure an inspection would have caught?

"If it is brought to light, we need changes in the law to make people safe, we'll do it in the legislature," he said.

"I think it's inappropriate. If you have stagehands up 80 feet in the air, climbing around working on lights and the rigging, that their safety should be protected," said Kristi Zunis.

Zunis was at Saturday's concert and was also at the Coliseum explosion in 1963 as a five-year-old. She lost her brother in that tragedy.

"I can't imagine there isn't a regulation in place for inspections for something like that," she said.

Also late Monday afternoon, the state released its Severe Weather Policy. (See it here and here.) It says nothing about evacuating large crowds from the grandstand area.

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