Officials apply Ind. fair's lessons to Super Bowl

By CHARLES WILSON | January 6, 2012 | 3:09 PM EST

In this Dec. 29, 2011 photo, Adam Collins, left, and Mark Sinsko, both with the Indianapolis Department of Code Enforcement, look at a portable tent in Indianapolis. The tent will be used for events during the Super Bowl. With 80-foot zip lines, outdoor concerts and an array of food pavilions, downtown Indianapolis is hoping to create the festive atmosphere of a summer street fair for this season's Super Bowl. But organizers are also worried about safety following last summer's collapse of a stage at the state fair, and weighing how many precautions are enough to prevent another tragedy. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — With 80-foot zip lines, outdoor concerts and an array of food pavilions, downtown Indianapolis is hoping to create the festive atmosphere of a summer street fair — without the heat — for this season's Super Bowl and to show tens of thousands of visitors that a cold-weather city can put on the glitz for the NFL's big game.

But beneath the excitement of planning the biggest sporting event in city history is an undercurrent of tension over what could go wrong, a reality brought on by a deadly stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair that killed seven people and injured more than 40 others.

Local organizers are trying to learn from the Aug. 13 collapse, which occurred when a gust of wind sent stage rigging crashing into a crowd of fans awaiting a performance by country duo Sugarland. No inspections of the structure had been conducted, and fair officials were criticized for failing to evacuate the area as a storm approached.

Now, Indianapolis officials overseeing the outdoor festival for the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 are weighing how many precautions are enough and how to anticipate possibilities ranging from high winds and ice to heavy snow accumulations.

"You can throw out any standards you want, but if you don't have a basis underneath it you're building on a house of sand," said Rick Tobin, an emergency management consultant from San Antonio, Texas, who analyzes safety preparations for public events.

Weather is a wild card at any Super Bowl, even in warmer climates. A winter storm caused dangerous sheets of ice to fall from Cowboys Stadium in Dallas last year and snarled travel before the game. The same storm pummeled Indianapolis and caused the collapse of a canopy at the Indianapolis International Airport.

Many of Indianapolis' preparations have focused on snow removal. Kara Brooks, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Public Works, said the city plans to double the usual six snow plows patrolling downtown during Super Bowl week. Indianapolis averages more than 25 inches of snow per year, much more than most Super Bowl sites.

But the outdoor structures, including two large stages that are expected to draw thousands for performances by Patti LaBelle, Darius Rucker, LMFAO and other national acts, are getting an especially hard look. Officials have received 50 applications for tents or stages to be set up near Lucas Oil Stadium, with more expected in the coming weeks.

All will be examined by city inspectors, something that didn't happen at the state fair because the state does not require inspections. About 40 inspectors from the Department of Code Enforcement, plus officials from the state fire marshal's office, will check each to ensure it meets manufacturer's standards as well as fire and occupancy codes.

The city is setting up a special court process to fine violators and take down structures if necessary.

"Our focus is making sure that everything gets inspected," said Adam Collins, the city's license administrator.

Each venue must also submit a detailed evacuation plan — a direct result of the fair accident. Unlike the fair's plan, specific trigger points for wind speed and other factors would be set for ordering evacuations of outdoor structures. Collins said most of the tents will be heated, which will help keep snow and ice from collapsing the roofs. But a severe storm could shut down vendors, he said. Collins said most of the stages are rated for winds up to 90 mph.

Collins said officials will monitor the weather daily, relying on a Public Works meteorologist and a 35-member committee of experts and event organizers.

Mike Smith, senior vice president of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, questioned whether the approach is too complicated.

Smith said the state fair tragedy showed that when too many people are involved in a decision, it can cause "decision paralysis." He thinks it would be simpler to employ a single meteorologist and make a decision about evacuations based on that advice alone.

"Sometimes you have to make a decision quickly and too much information is an impediment," he said. "The time is precious in a critical situation. You need to act."


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