Who Is Inspecting Outdoor Stages?

The stage that collapsed under high winds at the Indiana Stage Fair on August 13 killed five people and injured more than 40. The disaster has prompted inquiries into who is responsible for the integrity of temporary stages.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel. Summertime means outdoor concerts, and it also means summer storms. And that combination has been dangerous, even deadly, in the last few weeks. In Tulsa, in Ottawa in Canada, in Indianapolis, concert stages have collapsed. The one at the Indiana State Fair last Saturday killed five people, and state fair officials have hired an engineering firm to investigate. There are calls for a hard look at the patchwork(拼凑成的东西) of laws and standards that govern these structures as NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE: The crowd at the Indiana State Fair was expecting a concert by the band Sugarland. What they got instead looked like a scene from a horror movie as the metal stage buckled under a 60-mile-per-hour gust of wind.

ROSE: The collapse focused public attention on the question of who exactly is supposed to be inspecting outdoor stages. The answer, at least in this case, appears to be no one.

PAUL WERTHEIMER: It varies depending on what side of the border you're on.

ROSE: Paul Wertheimer is the founder of Crowd Management Strategies, a company that advises concert promoters on crowd safety. He says regulations governing temporary stages can differ wildly from one municipality to the next.

WERTHEIMER: When it's a state property, as in the Indiana State Fair grounds, the stages don't have to be inspected. But if that same stage that collapsed had been built in the city of Indianapolis, there would have been an inspector who would have looked at it before it was made available for use.

ROSE: Officials for the state's Occupational Safety and Health Administration are inspecting the site now, hoping to find something in the pile of twisted aluminum(铝合金) that will explain why it collapsed.

KARL RULING: You can't make these structures. Frankly, you can't make any structure stand up to all the possible wind conditions on this Earth.

ROSE: Karl Ruling works for PLASA. It's a trade group that represents the lighting and sound industries, among others. His organization helped craft voluntary safety standards for outdoor concert stages, like the one that failed in Indiana. Ruling says the standards for wind vary, depending on what's likely in a given location. But what doesn't change is the need for a backup plan when the weather turns extreme.

RULING: You need to have a plan of what are you going to do to watch the weather? And exactly at what points do you say it's getting dangerous? We need to take corrective action. And what is that corrective action? So if you do it, I'm not going to guarantee that the wind won't blow something down. But if you follow the standard, you're going to have everybody out of the way.

ROSE: That is not what happened in Indiana. Officials at the Indiana State Fair did not return calls for comment. The company that built the stage, Mid-America Sound, is also declining interview requests, pending the outcome of the investigation.

While the stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair was unusually deadly, it is not unique. This summer alone, high winds played a role in two other stage collapses, including an incident in July when a 40-ton stage roof fell on the band Cheap Trick in Ottawa, Canada. David Frey is the band's manager.

DAVID FREY: I mean, we were lucky because our truck was in back, and it fell on our truck and broke the fall, and that gave us time to get out.

ROSE: Frey and Cheap Trick survived the incident unharmed, although their equipment wasn't so lucky. The cause of that collapse is also under investigation. The band Sugarland never did take the stage in Indiana. Safety consultant Paul Wertheimer says officials at the state fair had plenty of warning that the storm was coming. Indianapolis Symphony canceled its outdoor concert just 13 miles away. Wertheimer says the state fair could have done the same, but it didn't.

WERTHEIMER: It's not the inanimate(无生气的) object. Had the stage simply collapsed without the crowd underneath, we probably wouldn't be talking about this today. The main issue is the crowd, and that's what officials don't want to talk about: the management, the failure to manage the crowd and protect them.

ROSE: Wertheimer hopes the tragedy in Indiana will lead to tougher, national safety standards for outdoor concerts because, left to its own devices, he doesn't think the concert industry is likely to solve the problem. Joel Rose, NPR News.