State fair stages prep for severe weather safetyby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The Great Minnesota Get Together starts Thursday, and this year it follows some high-profile disasters at other major outdoor events.
A storm killed seven people at the Indiana State Fair when a stage collapsed before a country music show. More were killed in a storm-related collapse at a music festival in Belgium last week.
In Ottawa and Oklahoma City, severe weather also brought down staging at two shows in July. No one was killed, but few people were hurt, and the bands Cheap Trick and the Flaming Lips narrowly escaped injury.
This year, there are more than a dozen bands set to play outdoor evening grandstand shows at the Minnesota State Fair. And the fair's deputy general manager Renee Pearson says fair-goers are safe.
"We had an independent structural engineer here yesterday who looked at our two temporary stages, and gave us good approval on the look of the stages, and their safety level," she said. "We'll be monitoring the weather, and we'll do whatever we can. We've got emergency procedures in place."
Steve Hernick, Minnesota's chief building inspector, says that structures in populated areas are inspected for compliance with fire and structural safety, access and sanitation. That includes temporary structures like staging and event tents at the fair, which have to be able to withstand a 90mph wind load.
Pearson, who oversees the grandstand shows, says that stage passes the test.
"The structure itself can take winds up to 100 mph. We certainly don't want to see 100 mph wind, but it can definitely take that amount of wind," she said.
Winds can top that in the worst storms in Minnesota, but Hernick says it's a small risk, and that getting people out of the way is ultimately a more practical alternative to storm-proofing a structure to withstand any and all wild weather.
"When you look at a temporary structure, you look at how to you get people out if something unexpected occurs," he said. "In the case of severe weather that's beyond the ability of the structure to withstand, then I think it falls on the organizer to say when you move people out, when you cancel concerts."
The fair's general manager, Jerry Hammer, says the Fair is prepared to do just that. Officials have cleared out shows as recently as 2006, also during a Flaming Lips show.
"It's not a real difficult thing to do. You open the doors, and you direct everybody inside, and within about three minutes, everybody's inside and safe," he said.
The fair this year has also designated five severe weather shelters on its official maps. They include the Coliseum, the ag building, the grandstand, the 4-H dormitories and the Crossroads building at Cooper Street and Dan Patch Avenue.
- All Things Considered, 08/24/2011, 4:54 p.m.