July storm drill similar to August fair disaster


Four weeks before the August 13th storm that devastated the State Fair stage, fair officials rehearsed a scenario remarkably like the one that unfolded.

"It was eerily prescient of what would happen some weeks later," says emergency planning expert Dr. Peter Beering.

The scenario even had Sugarland set to perform with a violent storm closing in. Planners had 20 minutes to make a decision.

Later, the group that put together the tabletop drill called it a success but found some weak points, including the "need for a matrix for decisions to shelter in place during extreme weather." Translation: no clear rules when to evacuate people to buildings or just let them shelter where they are.

"The difficulty in managing these kinds of events is decision makers are being flooded with information," said Beering.

Beering was the city's emergency planning advisor. In 2004, he helped make the call that evacuated the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a tornado came near.

"The hope is a table top exercise hones those decisions," says Beering. "In real crises the deciders may be overwhelmed with information and not all of it correct."

"Sometimes that flood of information," he says, "Can give rise to decision paralysis or delayed decisions." And slow evacuation orders may have been a big factor here.

Beverly Wheeler, injured at the concert that night, can't believe the fair ran a test so close to reality just one month before.

Wheeler says "I feel like they were prepared for an event, but the event was not one that anyone could have seen coming. Horrible situation."

The State Fair declined to comment on the drill until the outside investigation by Witt Associates is complete.