Sports Law • Risk Management

Wind Toppled Stage Kills Spectators: Preventable Tragedy?

Many sporting venues have outdoor concerts, finish lines or awards presentations for which a temporary elevated stage or platform is constructed. In anticipation of hosting any type of event, an event planner should prepare for a multitude of problems, including those caused by natural disasters. However, a natural disaster during an outdoor concert at the Indiana State Fair on Saturday night leaves some questioning of the venue’s disaster preparedness. So far there are five reported deaths and multiple injuries caused by a strong and sudden windstorm last night, which prompted a concert stage’s metal scaffolding, lights and stage equipment to fall on top of unsuspecting concertgoers.

Besides Mother Nature, there are a few groups that could potentially be held responsible for this unfortunate incident. First, the company that owns and sets up the stage has a responsibility to properly secure the stage, scaffolding and lights using sturdy equipment and supplies. Furthermore, they must be sure to not overload or leave any structure off-balance and susceptible to tipping. Although it is too early to tell if this group was negligent in the installation of the stage and its scaffolding, it is likely they will be investigated to see if the incident could have been prevented.

Second, the announcer has a responsibility to properly warn spectators. A report from today’s Associated Press release stated that just prior to the incident, an announcement was made of the upcoming and potentially severe storm. The announcer even provided emergency instructions, yet quickly minimized the danger by providing an offer of hope that the upcoming band would still perform its show as scheduled. At least the announcer gave evacuation instructions, which exemplifies some level of disaster preparedness, but the announcer should not have made the storm sound routine or insignificant. Particularly knowing that the region has a history of severe and sudden storms, the concert should have been delayed and the area immediately in front of the stage, and perhaps the entire concert venue should have been temporarily vacated until the storm cleared.

Third, fair organizers will likely be questioned as far as their preparedness and response to this type of natural disaster. Did they do their due diligence in hiring a qualified company to install the stage? Were the premises and the structures inspected prior to allowing anyone entrance into the venue? Was there a disaster plan in place should an emergency arise and was it executed properly in light of the event that happened? Should the announcer have been instructed to better inform the spectators of the potential severity of the storm? These questions and more will likely be asked of the fair organizers.

Hopefully you can learn from the tragedy of this weekend's incident to improve upon your disaster preparedness for your venue. Before your next event, be sure to have a written disaster plan in place. Prior to the event, train your personnel and volunteers by practicing implementing your disaster plan response. Ultimately when your event arrives, if you have knowledge to forewarn others of an upcoming storm, without inciting panic, never minimize the potential danger to spectators. For more strategies to prevent similar tragedies from occurring at your venue, consult risk managers, such as Nohr Sports Risk Management, LLC.