Mewsings from Lowecat (aka Indianacat)

My rants, ravings, and overall 'mewsings' on life, the universe, and everything.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pay Attention, Dammit!

I haven't checked the national cable news outlets, but since the stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair made the world wide web (AOL news, for one), I figure it probably has been covered. That's the media for y'all, if it bleeds, it leads. So far, five people lost their lives, and over 40 people were treated at hospitals in the area for injuries.

I feel that this shouldn't have happened. It could've been avoided. Yes, I'm bein' a bit of a Monday Morning Quarterback here. BUT, I also spent time in broadcasting, and severe weather was something I became familiar with, and developed a healthy respect for, no matter the season.

Seeing the picture of that stage collapse in a the high wind gust, and knowing that people were trapped underneath was ghastly enough, and the repetitious replays didn't make it any better. It got worse when the sound was added.

The sight took me back to 1979 and the Cincinnati Who concert where people died in a crush to get into the coliseum out of the cold. The blame then was placed on so called 'festival' seating, aka general admission. Cincinnati outlawed it, and 'festival ' seating', which was similar to the mosh pits at some concerts, became assigned seating.

Now, I'm all in favor of getting as close to a favorite musician as possible. My first concert was in 1976, Roberts' Stadium in Evansville for KISS. I experienced 'festival seating'. The floor in front of the stage had no seats. It was wide open, stand up only. You arrived early in hopes of getting to the stage in order to see clearly.

Think sardines packed in a can, think a cold, blustery, November day turning into night. Think a crush of people trying to fit through two little doors. Chaos, pushing, shoving, screaming, running to the stage area, and clinging for life to the barrier separating the stage from the people. Yeah, my little teen self survived that.

I've never attended an outdoor concert, and don't ever plan to. There's just too much that can happen. Plus, I don't do crowds well. Hell, I get annoyed by the people in the grocery or department store yappin' on their cells and standin' in the middle of the aisle so I can't get around! Therefore, me in a large gathering like that is NOT a good idea.

The Indiana State Fair, like all state fairs, books big name entertainment for concerts. I don't have a problem with that. What I have a problem with is the outdoor venue. Indiana weather is too iffy for that kind of thing. The fairgrounds has a perfectly good coliseum. The only problem is that it limits the amount of tickets that can be sold.

And here, I believe, is the true reason that this ghastly event happened. The good ole bottom line. Makin' money won out over safety.

The front that caused this tragic event was preceded by a 'gust front'. Indianapolis had achieved a 90 degree day, and the cold front that moved in was proceeded by a mass of cold air, probably about 15 minutes ahead of the storm. When the National Weather Service announced the severe thunderstorm warning for Marion County, the county next to us to the West had recorded a wind gust up to 70 miles an hour!

The outdoor stage was constructed pretty thoroughly, as far as I could tell. I doubt anyone considered the need to withstand high winds. Who thinks that such a thing could happen? The wind blew, and like a house of cards, the stage went right over. What should have been a great night turned into terror for many individuals.

I'm sure that the state fair, the band, and anyone else involved will be the plaintiffs in wrongful death and injury suits that will drag for years. The people who were hurt and those who are mourning the loss of a loved one will never fully recover.

I can't help but feel that this could've been avoided firstly by holding the concert in the covered coliseum. The concert goers would have been safer and out of harm's way. In perfect 20/20 hindsight, it's almost the Homer Simpson 'doh!' observation.

Granted, there wouldn't have been as many people as an infield/dusty track area and a grandstand provided, but the concert goers would've been safe.

I also firmly believe that as soon as the weather service issued the severe thunderstorm WARNING for the county, the concert should've been interrupted, and the people not in the grandstand moved to a safe place. Would it have been inconvenient? Probably. But with a storm not far away, the concert would have been delayed anyway. Why not delay it a little earlier, for safety's sake?

These are questions that will probably come up in future court cases, and may be asked by various investigating agencies in the area. In the future, it's possible that the State Fair may hold concerts in the coliseum in the future.

Both the State and County fairs and other outdoor venues may come up with a written contingency plan for severe weather warnings in the future. I wouldn't be surprised to see something like that show up in next year's state legislature.

Banning 'special' up front seating within a certain area of the stage on outdoor venues may also be something we see in the future. Had there been a bit of space between the 'special/vip' seating and the stage, the carnage might've been less.

All this sounds like shuttin' the barn door after the prize horse has done bolted from the stable, doesn't it? But it's how I've felt since the 1979 Cincy incident. I attended a few concerts since then, and always shuddered at the 'general' seating on the floor. At least they're seats! But they were still very close to harm's way.

I don't hold Sugarland, the band that was to perform, accountable for what happened Saturday. I hold the people in charge at the State Fair who were too blind to see what might happen in a severe storm.

Indiana storms are quick, furious, and changeable. It's possible for one side of town to have a torrential downpour, while the opposite side is never touched by a storm. We can't continue to allow ourselves to be complacent about Mother Nature. Better to lose a few bucks, then a few lives.


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