Note: Links to resources appear at the bottom of this page.
In 2011, straight-line winds of a severe thunderstorm blew down the temporary, steel roof over a concert stage at the Indiana State Fair. Seven people died. Four years later, two people died in New Hampshire, after thunderstorm winds blew down a circus tent.
The fact that people were still dying in weather-related incidents at public events four years after the State Fair tragedy prompted me to produce my first video blog, above.
At least two and a half hours before both the Indianapolis and New Hampshire storms, the National Weather Service issued severe thunderstorm watches. The agency issued specific warnings at least 10 minutes before each storm.
According to a report by the Indianapolis Star, no one advised the State Fair audience to seek shelter before the stage structure collapsed. At the time this story was produced, it was unclear from news reports whether circus employees even knew about the New Hampshire storm warning, or whether they instructed their audience to seek shelter.
Tragedies like these show how important it is for organizers of outdoor events to have effective plans, policies and procedures for severe weather.
“Every plan should have something in there that says, ‘We get information from one location, we’re able to process that in a timely manner, and move people,'” said Michael Lewis, warning coordination meteorologist at the northern Indiana office of the National Weather Service.
“So when we work with them, we try to give them redundant sources of information,” Lewis continued. “Use our website. Use the different applications that are available on smartphones. Use NOAA weather radio, get the information and act quickly. The plan should look at how long will it take to you to move people from where they generally congregate to places of shelter, places of safety. Where are the gonna go and how long is it going to take to get there.”
In Fort Wayne, Indiana, the minor-league TinCaps baseball team routinely draws crowds of eight thousand or more.
“We do have a severe weather plan, very detailed,” said Brian Schackow, chief financial officer, Fort Wayne Tincaps. “And I think the best way to describe it is it just outlines the way we’re gonna communicate with people in the event of severe weather.”
“We have slides, we have weather announcements that our PA announcer will make, and it outlines how to handle that. Everything from just being in a thunderstorm warning — or a watch, I should say — all the way up to a tornado warning, which is the case right now where we would evacuate the ballpark,” Schackow continued.
A number of resources are available to event and venue professionals. For example, a trade organization called The Event Safety Alliance hosted a Severe Weather Summit in March of 2016. There, experts discussed all types of weather issues and how to develop plans.
Other resources include local emergency managers and public safety officials as well as local National Weather Service offices.
Event organizers and venue owners can help prevent future injuries and deaths by using such resources to adequately prepare for dangerous weather.
- “Rewind: State Fair stage collapse: Whose call was it?” (Indianapolis Star article)
- National Weather Service (Main website)
- Weather Radio app
- Storm Shield app
- NOAA Weather Radio (NWS website)
- “Event severe weather plan” Google search
- Event Safety Alliance (Organization website)
- “Preparing Venues and Large Events for Severe Weather” (Presentation slide deck in PDF format from NWS Detroit)