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Ind. fairs, festivals await stage rigging rules

Associated Press Modified: April 26, 2012 at 8:00 pm •  Published: April 26, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Organizers of some of Indiana's county fairs and small festivals are anxiously awaiting new rules governing the type of rigging involved in last summer's deadly State Fair stage collapse.

Details of the proposed temporary rules, which a state commission may vote on next week, have not been released and that's stirring up concern among festival organizers who fear they could face new costs to comply with the regulations, said Gale Gerber, vice president of the Indiana State Festivals Association. He said many of the 450 festivals and fairs held across Indiana each year operate on shoestring budgets and cannot afford new costs.

"A lot of these small festivals have budgets under $2,000 or $3,000 to run their festivals. If these rules bring new expenses, there's no way they can handle that," Gerber said.

The Indiana Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission will meet Wednesday to consider the proposed rules, which were prompted by the Aug. 13 collapse of stage rigging that killed seven people and injured dozens before a scheduled Sugarland concert at the State Fair in Indianapolis.

State fair organizers weren't required to have that rigging inspected because it was a temporary structure not covered under Indiana law.

The new emergency rules, which will become Indiana's first regulations for outdoor stage rigging and related temporary structures, are required under legislation Gov. Mitch Daniels signed into law last month.

David Hannum, the safety commission's chairman, said the proposed rules are still being tweaked, but they may include a requirement that event organizers pay for a plan approved by engineers to ensure their stage equipment is safe. He said that requirement would likely apply only to large temporary rigging structures holding lights and sound equipment like the one toppled by high winds at the fairgrounds.

Hannum said the rules are expected to include an exemption for smaller festivals with modest rigging structures, with the provision that organizers of those events create a buffer zone around the stage area to protect fans in the event of a collapse.

He said the goal is to make all outdoor events with stage rigging structures safer for the public.

"Our job is to make sure the public is safe, not that the organizers are happy," Hannum said.

If the panel's members don't want significant changes to the proposed rules at Wednesday's meeting, he said they'll likely go ahead and vote on approval. If that happens, the rules will be posted online the same day, although they won't take effect until July 1.

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