State Fair to reassess severe weather evacuation plan - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

State Fair to reassess severe weather evacuation plan

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Andy Klotz, fair spokesman Andy Klotz, fair spokesman
Photo courtesy Tina Daily Photo courtesy Tina Daily

State Fair organizers say they will re-examine their severe weather evacuation plan following Saturday night's tragedy.

13 Investigates broke the story Monday night that the fair's plan did not address evacuating the grandstand. Also, the fair was not required to get a permit for the stage rigging, and that the state may never have inspected it.

The Indiana state fire marshal led teams of inspectors into the debris of the collapsed stage, where five people died after gusting winds toppled tons of steel to the ground.

13 Investigates discovered the Mid-American Sound Corp. did not have to get a permit to build the scaffolding, meaning no Indiana agency inspected it for safety.

The revelation caught Gov. Mitch Daniels off guard.

"I thought it was a learning point for all of us that something of that size that there isn't some either inspection or certification. So it ought to be looked at," said Daniels.

The lack of clear warnings and timely evacuation prior to the storm is now causing another serious concern.

At issue is the 45 minutes before the stage collapsed. (See the complete timeline here.)

At 8:00 pm, fair staff were alerted that the National Weather Service said severe thunderstorms would make the fairgrounds around 9:15pm.

At 8:30, Indiana State Police moved into the grandstands to help evacuate concert-goers.

At 8:39, the National Weather Service issued a "Severe Thunderstorm Warning" with the possibility of hail, lightening and strong winds.

At 8:45, six minutes later, the stage announcer let people know that severe weather was moving in, and instructed them on where they could seek shelter but did not call for an evacuation.

Four minutes later at 8:49, the stage crashed to the ground.

Fair spokesman Andy Klotz says those in charge were preparing to announce an evacuation, but never made it to the stage.

"We were assessing and assessing. We had all the information that a thunderstorm was coming and we were reacting to that information," Klotz explained.

13 Investigates obtained a copy of the State Fair Severe Thunderstorm Policy. (See the policy here and here.)

The document tells staff "to secure equipment inside of buildings so it's not propelled by high winds, to evacuate from tents to solid structures, and to remember that severe thunderstorms can produce large hail damaging winds, heavy lightening, and even tornado activity."

But it does nothing to address attendees in the grandstands or even the midway.

"Why isn't there anything in there about the grandstand and what are worker's supposed to do?" 13 Investigates asked.

"That is definitely one of the things that we are going to reassess, whether there needed to be, or needs to be some kind of individual policy," responded Klotz.

Tracy Holt can't believe the fair doesn't have a better warning policy in effect for the entire grounds. She was near the rides in the midway when the wind gust came through.

"No, there was no weather warning. None at all. Nothing come over the loud speaker," she told 13 Investigates.

We asked Klotz about the latest allegations of no warnings in other parts of the fairgrounds.

"I don't know that to be true," he said.

But Indiana State Police confirmed warning policies were all under review.

"It's being reviewed. That's the purpose of the investigation, that's why we're doing what we're doing," Bursten told 13 Investigates.

13 Investigates asked neighboring states for their severe weather policies. The Ohio State Fair specifically lays out who is to make the decision to evacuate and when to contact the governor's office. It even includes a plan on how to evacuate animals.

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