Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Live music’s tragic summer

It has been a sadly memorable summer for health and safety concerns at outdoor concerts. Even before last week’s tragic events in Belgium, when five festival-goers were killed at Pukkelpop after a storm hit the festival site, there have been …

Mon, Aug 22, 2011, 09:43

   

It has been a sadly memorable summer for health and safety concerns at outdoor concerts. Even before last week’s tragic events in Belgium, when five festival-goers were killed at Pukkelpop after a storm hit the festival site, there have been serious incidents at shows involving Sugarland, Cheap Trick and the Flaming Lips.

While there have been occasional weather-related problems and incidents at festivals and outdoor shows over the years, four high profile incidents during the same season draws attention to the issue of safety at these shows. As Sophia Tareen reports for Billboard, some of the problems Stateside come from a lack of national regulation. Different states have different regulations when it comes to safety at outdoor events leading to confusion and different standards. The Indiana State Fair, where five people were killed when a stage collapsed before Sugerland were due to play, only had a single page emergency plan, but promoters must adhere to much stricter health and safety codes in cities like Chicago and New York (Tareen cites a case where a Black Eyed Peas show in New York’s Central Park was called off due to thunderstorms).

Yet, as Rodd Zolkos notes in Business Insurance, the Indiana State Fair promoters reportedly received a severe weather warning in advance, but had not issued an evacuation order before the stage collapsed. By contrast, an outdoor performance by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at another venue in the area was pulled and the 7,000 capacity audience evacuated after officials received a similar weather warning.

In Ireland, outdoor shows (especially when the capacity is over 5,000 people) are strictly regulated. Planning permission and licences need to be obtained from the local authority in advance, hence why you’ll see or hear the tagline “subject to license” on ads for big events. Obtaining these permissions involve compiling detailed health and safety reports and emergency and traffic plans covering a range of potential incidents which might happen at the event. Furthermore, while we complain a lot about our lousy lot when it comes to the Irish weather, we thankfully do not have to contend with the severe, freak weather conditions which all four of this summer’s festival incidents had in common. Muddy campsites are a minor complaint compared to stages collapsing due to high winds and thunderstorms.

Incidents like Pukkelpop and the Indiana State Fair remind you, as Academy of Country Music promoter Bob Romeo notes, that outdoor shows always carry risks: “whenever you’re outside, there’s a risk. It just is. It’s an inherent risk. It’s been in the fair and festival business from day one”. The only way to reduce these risks is by pre-event planning and ensuring there are plans in place to deal with any emergencies when they happen.

But even then, as we saw at Pukkelpop last week, things can change in a matter of minutes and it seems that no amount of planning can prevent a tragedy happening. After all, as the BBC reports, “initial checks on emergency planning measures – which staff told AFP news agency included “checking trees for their resistance to high winds, and testing the drainage system” – left officials confident they had done everything that could be expected of them given such freak conditions”.

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