Crowd Control

New Indiana law to keep
music fans at safe distance

Last year’s stage collapse at
Indiana State Fair prompts
new rules for stage setups

By Don Ward

July 2012 Edition Cover

July 2012
Edition Cover

(July 2012) – When folk music fans arrived at this year’s RiverRoots Festival in Madison, Ind., last May, many were surprised to find themselves confined to standing 20 feet back from the stage. It was quite a change from previous years, when the crowd was allowed to stand and dance much closer to the performers on stage.
But barricades are now being positioned far enough back to create a “fall zone” should anything happen to cause the speaker columns or stage lights to fall and injure or kill bystanders. Such changes, now required by state law in Indiana, have come about in the wake of last year’s Indiana State Fair stage collapse in Indianapolis that killed seven people and injured dozens prior to a scheduled Aug. 13 Sugarland concert. State Fair organizers were not required to have that rigging inspected because it was a temporary structure not previously covered under Indiana law.
Incidentally, a second stage collapse occurred June 16 in Toronto, Canada, killing a drum technician and injuring three others prior to the scheduled Radiohead concert at Downsview Park. The band has subsequently postponed its European tour.
The new Indiana ordinance for stage riggings went into effect May 5 – just two weeks before the RiverRoots Festival, making the Madison event one of the first such venues to undergo a state inspection to meet the new requirements.
“It was challenging, especially since we had so little time between when the law went into effect and our festival,” said RiverRoots festival coordinator Greg Ziesemer. “The new law has certainly changed the experience of a live show, and changed it permanently.”
Ziesemer said many fans questioned why the barrier was placed so far back from the stage. So he made several announcements from the stage about the change to explain.

Photos provided

Seven people were killed and dozens injured in August 2011 at the Indiana State Fair when a stage collasped in high wind just prior to a Sugarland concert. The tragedy prompted Indiana officials to pass new laws regulating stage riggings and also set guidelines for how far back the crowd must be, depending on the height of the speakers and light towers. The law went into effect in May.

“I think it’s going to take a while for the state to sort this out,” Ziesemer said. “I’m hopeful they will define it more clearly in the future, but I was pleased with the work our inspector did to try and apply the rules to our needs.”
Linda Lytle, executive director of VisitMadison Inc., agreed that the barrier setback from stage has had an impact for those who like to get up close and personal with the bands. “I think it does detract from the crowd’s experience. We already did a three-foot setback to protect the stage and equipment, but 8-15 feet is a good distance, and the crowd will not feel as up close and personal with the bands.
“Being a small venue has always been a drawing point for Madison events. We have had people who went to concerts in Chicago for artists and then turned around and bought tickets to our events for the same artist so they could be up close.”
Former city building inspector and Madison resident Jim Storm is the inspector in Jefferson County for the state fire marshal, housed within Indiana Department of Homeland Security, which enforces the new laws regarding stage riggings. He also inspects venues in nearby Switzerland, Ohio, Ripley and Jennings counties. In addition to the upcoming Madison Ribberfest blues festival in mid-August, Storm will be inspecting the stage for the Swiss Wine Festival in Vevay in August, among others. All county fairs that have entertainment venues must be inspected, as well as amusement rides and small stage venues in these counties, Storm said. A permit must be obtained for such activities from the state office.
“We have been undergoing continuous training to become more familiar with the new law because each site is different,” Storm said. “The law is being applied based on several factors, such as the size of the stage, the number of people expected, and so on.”

Greg Ziesemer

"The new law has certainly changed the experience of a live show, and changed
it permanently."

– Greg Ziesemer, RiverRoots Festival Director

As for determining the size of the fall zone in front of the stage, that is dependent upon the height of the speaker columns on stage. The fall zone depth is determined by adding the height of the speakers plus eight feet. Many times, the speakers are positioned on stands, further elevating the height, he said.
Speaker combinations vary from venue to venue based on the needs of the bands, the type of music played, the distance the sound must be projected, and other factors. For instance, the speaker setup for the folk festival bands at RiverRoots is different from the blues bands’ needs for the Madison Ribberfest, according to Burke Jones, a city of Madison utility maintenance employee who sets up the city-owned mobile stage for these events. Jones says setting up the 600-square-foot mobile stage is pretty basic unless he were asked to attached the extensions, making the stage area larger.
Storm agrees, saying, “The Madison people really know what they’re doing when it comes to setting up that stage because that mobile stage is self-contained. It is these temporary stages with lights and speakers that are the greatest concern.”
Still to be safe, Jones asked the manufacturer of the stage, Century Industries, which is based in nearby Sellersburg, Ind., to send an engineer over to provide specifications and details in response to documentation that was required to meet the terms of the new stage rigging law.
“We just wanted to make sure we did it right the first time, especially since we will be going through this again in August with Ribberfest,” Jones said.
Ribberfest director Kathy Ayers said she understands the importance of safety, saying, “that is our No. 1 priority because we don’t want to happen in Madison what happened at the Indiana State Fair last year. If it means we have to push the barricades back a little bit from the stage to ensure the safety of the crowd, then we will do so, even though I’d like to see them be closer.”
Entering its 11th year, the Ribberfest’s blues crowd has become so large recently that it is hard to get anywhere near the stage, anyway. Most spectators watch the bands from their own blankets and portable chairs that they set up around the amphitheater at Madison Bicentennial Park.
Each time the stage is used, it must be inspected. In late June, Jones was called upon to set up the mobile stage for the Madison Regatta entertainment, to be located on the riverfront at Fireman’s Park. Bands are scheduled to play there Thursday through Saturday nights, July 5-7. Those bands will use a smaller configuration of speakers, so the fall zone will only need to be eight to 10 feet from the stage, he said.

Kathy Ayers

‘We’ve got to be flexible and resilient to change when putting on these events.’

– Kathy Ayers, Ribberfest director

Jones also plans to set up the city’s mobile stage in late August for the Prince of Peace Catholic Schools’ Summer Festival, and again in October on Madison’s Main Street for the Chamber of Commerce’s Soup, Stew, Chili & Brew event.
To help reduce the size of the fall zone at the RiverRoots Festival, Jones installed a digitally controlled LED light pole instead of the traditional lighting bar that hangs above the performers. This gave the sound board controllers more control over the lighting effects and also cut down on the heat intensity on the performers, he said.
“We gained 10 to 12 feet of space by using the LED lights,” Jones said. “That would have been about 50 percent of the concrete pad (dancing area) in front of the stage that we would have lost.”
In addition to meeting the new stage rigging law, each large entertainment venue must have an evacuation plan in place should anything force the evacuation of a large crowd. Madison festivals did not have such a plan in place until recently. The plan is still be tweaked and will be presented to all committee members of the Ribberfest in the coming weeks, according to Ribberfest’s Ayers. She helped devise the plan, which was in place for RiverRoots as well for the first time this year.
“We basically plan to have an extra entrance gate on Central Avenue for those people who already have admission wristbands, and we will be prepared to open two additional exits in the back of the park in the event of an emergency evacuation,” Ayers said. “We are training our committee members on what to do and where to go in the case of an emergency, whether it be caused by weather, fire, an accident or terrorism.”
Ayers continued, saying, “We’ve got to be flexible and resilient to change when putting on these events because our needs change. I’ve always said that we have put this event on over broken concrete and stubble grass over the years, so we can work with anything.”

• To view the new Indiana state guidelines for stage rigging, visit the Indiana Department of Homeland Security website at: www.In.gov.dhs.

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