After the past few weeks in which we witnessed 3 separate incidents of failures of outdoor staging structures, I feel the need to discuss this matter. I'm far from the only one to do so - you can read for yourself the multitude of blogs and articles on this subject, most of the same mind - this latest tragic failure was unacceptable, and will hopefully change how our industry works on outdoor events. There are now 5 people dead, including one of our own, IATSE Local 30 spot op Nathan Byrd, and dozens of injured, including other techs like Steve Stover, who as of this writing, is still in ICU in critical condition.
Having worked in too many situations where "the show must go on" attitude overrules any safety factors, I can easily see how something like this has happened and will continue to happen. Mid America Sound is a well respected company in our industry, and the JTE roof structures are extremely well engineered. But with a roof covering and backdrop that didn't come off in the high winds, with swinging (ie - pendulum) line arrays and LED walls that were hung from the roof instead of separate structure, it was pure physics that this rig was coming down in those winds.
The reasons for not lowering a roof are plentiful - too dangerous to have riggers climbing the rig in a storm to enable the roof to be lowered; too much gear (especially the circular LED wall) that would have to be (slowly) lowered first, before the roof can come in; etc.. But there is NO excuse for leaving the spot ops up in the rig - they should have been called down as soon as the threat of bad weather was mentioned. High winds or not, lightning and even rain can make this position deadly. And although, as with most major accidents, there is surely a lot of blame to be spread around, it is likely that the promoter and show management made the decision to push forward with the show, instead of at least evacuating the people on and near the stage temporarily. In the end, it is all about the money, and a promoter stands to lose a lot if they cancel (or even delay) a show. As one promoter friend of mine said yesterday, "...of course if you do make the decision to cancel or delay and nothing happens, there's hell to pay.". Some would rather take the risk that nothing will happen than to incur the hell involved with a delay or cancellation.
Things to consider to avoid this in the future? Of course, the promoter or show management needs to be held liable if they were the ones who decided not to delay. Production companies and union (and non-union) labor need to take a MUCH stronger stand on safety, and not worry so much about threats of losing the client and gig in the future. Bring the crew out of the truss anyway, drop the gear (and the roof, if possible) to the deck. Clear the space around the structure. Venues need to make the tough decisions to keep the audience safe, even if it means removing people from the VIP seating. Individuals need to refuse to work in such potentially dangerous conditions. Evens bands can take a stand to protect their fans, although I do disagree with Cheap Trick's stand to not play on a certain brand of stage structure, since it is not necessarily the manufacturer who was at fault in that disaster (or this one).
I also think that for future outdoor shows, production levels may have to be curtailed to eliminate things like heavy LED walls, flown backdrops, flown line arrays and any other gear that can't be lowered to the deck quickly and safely in an event like a sudden storm (or earthquake, etc) that could cause the rig to be unstable. Roofs and walls need to come off reliably, and in safe sizes in winds that are below dangerous levels.
I won't apologize for this rant - this should NOT have happened, and COULD have been prevented. I hope our industry changes drastically because of this, but I detest that it had to take the deaths of at least 5 people to make true changes.
If you would like to send your support to Steve Stover, I am re-posting below something my friend Debi Moen wrote on Facebook. I know he would appreciate our prayers and support at this time. Let's flood his room with cards!