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Indiana fair stage rules require time, cooperation

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MANY in the audience for this year’s Memorial Day weekend SALUTE! concert on the courthouse lawn weren’t able to get up close and personal with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic as in past years.

Seating for the annual event that honors local veterans and those on active duty was moved back dozens of feet by event organizers. That was in accordance with emergency regulations adopted by the state in the wake of the August 2011 tragedy at the Indiana State Fair in which seven people were killed and dozens injured when a stage set up for the band Sugarland collapsed in unexpectedly high winds.

The first row of seats was pushed back, based upon the distance separating the first row of onlookers and the height of rigging in front of the stage used to mount sound equipment. The distance rule created more than ample space so that if there were a collapse, the equipment would have fallen into a safe zone where no one was sitting.

Beyond the inconvenience of having to make arrangements at the last moment for the new standards, which went into effect only days before the SALUTE! concert, the impact on the event and the audience was minimal.

Nevertheless, some observers are concerned that state officials may be overreacting to the state fair tragedy, especially if smaller events would be forced to adopt unnecessary and expensive safeguards that are appropriate for large venues.

Of particular concerns were such events as county fairs or smaller community events in which elaborate stage settings are not required.

The initial rules were established under a “better to be safe than sorry” mind-set, which was certainly understandable owing to the extent of the state fair tragedy.

Now state legislators and Indiana Fire Marshal Jim Greeson are taking harder looks not only at the rules that were quickly adopted but the comprehensive manner in which both large and small events are staged.

Some officials are wisely looking beyond what the state can do and exploring steps that might lead to an international set of guidelines.

That would certainly be a bonus for the companies that set up stages at venues across the country and even the world, not to mention the entertainers who will use those stages.

To have a hodgepodge of regulations that varies from state to state and country to country serves to increase the costs of staging the events (which can dictate the cost of tickets) and to create situations in which mistakes can be made.

This is one of those decisions that will require time and cooperation. It must not become a turf issue.

Safety is much more important than that.

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