Guest Blog: Jim Allsopp on learning from Indiana Stage Collapse

The following is an e-mail written by Jim Allsopp, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the Chicago National Weather Service office. He sent this to all television Meteorologists in the Chicago and Rockford markets. After looking at the events at the Indiana State Fair, he says (and I agree) the tragedy was avoidable. He presents a great view of what we should do (as meteorologists and the public) to prevent these tragic events from happening again. -ES

Jim Allsopp, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, NWS Chicago

Greetings,

I’m sure most of you have heard about the tragic event at the Indiana State Fair the weekend before last, when a concert stage collapsed, crushing dozens of people and killing six. This was not a freak occurrence. In fact, there have been three weather related stage collapses this summer (Cheap Trick in Ottawa, and Chicago band The Smith Wessons in Belgium).

Wind engineers and storm damage experts will be investigating the Indiana event, but preliminary estimates of wind speeds were in the range of 50 to 70 mph. Preliminary reports also questioned the expected timing given in the Severe Thunderstorm Warning. But the fact is that a Severe Thunderstorm Watch was in effect at 600 PM, almost 3 hours before the storm hit, and a Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued at 839 PM, about 10 minutes before the storm hit. The line of storms was visible on radar well before the storm hit. This tragedy was avoidable!

This time of year there are many outdoor fairs, festivals, concerts and sporting events. There are three main players in protecting people from weather disasters at large outdoor events – the NWS, the event organizer and the emergency management community. I recently sent an email out to the emergency management community encouraging them to be proactive in working with event organizers in their counties and communities to make sure there is a severe weather plan in place. We have done severe weather preparedness workshops for large event venues in the past, and we will be developing a large event severe weather preparedness guide to post on our web page soon. I will be giving a presentation at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Conference in Springfield next month on severe weather planning for large venues and schools. We also encourage large event operators to become StormReady.

The main components to a sound severe weather plan for a large outdoor event are;

Monitor – have someone monitor radar, and have a NOAA Weather Radio. Have a secondary method to receive warnings in case NOAA Weather Radio fails. Have trained weather spotters at the event if storms threaten.
Plan – have a plan to shut down the event and evacuate people to shelter. All event staff as well as any local police, fire or EMA personnel involved with the event should be aware of the plan. Be especially aware of vulnerable locations such as amusement rides, temporary structures, mobile structures, and under or next to trees. Sending people to their cars in the parking lot may be reasonable in a lightning-only threat, but not a good choice for wind, tornado or flash flood threats. (the exception being a concrete parking garage)
Act – If a watch is in effect or storms are approaching, review the plan and be prepared to act quickly. If a warning is issued, or if severe weather is reported, don’t hesitate – take action!
Severe thunderstorm warnings are issued for storms that produce winds in excess of 58 mph. Weak structures such as tents, canopies, scaffolding, amusement rides may be vulnerable in winds of 30 to 50 mph. Lightning is also a major storm-related killer. There are no warnings issued for lightning or non-severe wind gusts. (However, we do issue Special Weather Statements for near-severe storms) Therefore, all thunderstorms are potentially dangerous to people outdoors and should be taken seriously.

But there is also a fourth component to large event preparedness – and that is with the individual event-goers. The public. And this is where you can help get the message out, as you have way more contact with the public than we do at NWS. Everyone has to take some personal responsibility when heading out to a ballgame, a festival, or a concert. People should always check the forecast before they head out. If there is a threat of thunderstorms, people should monitor the weather while they are out. Many people have a mobile device with internet access. Most of you in TV weather have web pages or blogs and some of you frequently post updates on Twitter or Facebook. Radar is available online and there are tons of weather apps and methods of receiving NWS warning alerts to cell phones. People can’t always count on the event organizer to warn them of impending storms. They have to take personal responsibility to look out for themselves. Also, people should also check out their surroundings when they arrive at an event and ask themselves, “Where could I go to find shelter if the weather gets bad? Am I sitting in a dangerous location near something that could become airborne or near something that could blow down?”

We appreciate everything you do to help educate the public.

Thanks, Jim

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Posted under Guest Blog

This post was written by qni_it on August 24, 2011

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