Expert calls for thorough review of state fairgrounds operations

PoliticsSafety of CitizensFEMAJim WhiteMarion County (Indiana)WXIN

When a concert stage crashed at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and killed six people August 13, it was the second fatal incident and the third public safety incident at the fairgrounds in less than a year.

Last December, a Christmas rap party ended in gunfire between rival gangs, leaving one man dead and several people wounded. Earlier this summer, during a gun show at the Exposition Hall, a weapon was accidentally discharged, though no one was wounded.

Now, Governor Daniels has called in Witt Associates to do a review of State Fair policies and procedures before and after the stage collapse.

"We'll be looking at certain weather information," said Witt Associates Vice President Charles Fisher. "We'll be looking at what had been done in terms of planning. We'll be looking at who was responsible for who had individual responsibility…between agencies."

Fisher said the review will include interviews with staff, as well as review of documents and information.

Former Marion County Emergency Management Director Jim White said the governor should use Witt Associates' investigation to take a hard look at all fairgrounds public safety operations.

"I would ask Witt Associates to look at all my policies and procedures:  How are we running things here? How are we doing gun shows? How are we doing private events here? I would take advantage of that expertise."

White was in charge during the evacuation of a John Mellencamp concert on Monument Circle during the Final Four in April of 2006 when a storm blew in and caused tens of millions of dollars worth of damages to the Regions Bank Building.

"Not only would you want to take a look at what happened that Saturday night, you would want to take a look at all the operations. Are we doing the right thing? Do we have the right policies and procedures in place? So I would take advantage of Witt Associates and say, ‘Why don't you look at our overall policies and procedures and how we run the state fairgrounds?'"

White applauds the national reputation of former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, who was on the receiving end of a phone call from Governor Daniels on Thursday, one day after he told Fox 59 News he would direct the State Fair Commission to initiate an internal inquiry with the help of outside investigators.

"I think they're going to get folks that are maybe going to delve into things you wouldn't delve into," said Witt, currently a public safety lecturer at IUPUI, "because you're part of the organization so I think you'll get an honest assessment of what needs to take place and you're going to get an honest assessment of what happened that evening."

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