State officials implement policy to prevent another State Fair tragedy


Chief Operating Officer for the Indiana State Fair Commission presents the new comprehensive emergency management plan to the commission and media. | photo by Katie Kutsko

Katie Kutsko

Staff reporter, 5 Rights News


“Alina BigJohny, Nathan Byrd, Glenn Goodrich, Jennifer Haskell, Christina Santiago, Megan Toothman and Tammy VanDam … ”

Those are the names of the seven who were tragically killed in the stage rigging collapse at the Indiana State Fair Aug. 13, 2011. Emotions ran high Thursday as the Indiana State Fair Commission (ISFC) dedicated a plaque to the victims and families revisited the accident site outside of the Hoosier Lottery Grandstand.

ISFC chairman Andre Lacy and president Steve Simmerman spoke briefly to the approximately 20 family members present for the plaque dedication ceremony.

Andrea Vellinga of Pendleton, a surviving victim who suffered from a traumatic brain injury during the collapse, also attended the memorial dedication.

“Just looking at it made me sad, thinking, ‘thank goodness my name wasn’t on this plaque’ but it made me sad looking at those people that didn’t make it that night,” Vellinga said. “We’re all victims, and it helps create a legacy for all of us.”

Some family members, however, found the quick speeches by the chairman and president  insulting.

“The rehearsed five-minute speeches … I’m sorry; I didn’t see any emotion in their face,” said Polly BigJohny, mother of Alina BigJohny, one of the seven who died. “It was very hurtful.”

In response to the stage collapse, the ISFC implemented a new comprehensive emergency management plan (CEMP).

According to Dave Shaw, the newly hired chief operating officer, the plan is “the best effort, hardest worked and most researched document the ISFC has ever produced in its 156-year-history.”

The 425-page document identifies 16 possible hazards, some of which include fire/ explosion, severe weather, lost/ unattended persons, earthquake, animals at-large, animal wellness and care, elevator malfunction and more. Each hazard that is identified in the plan is specific and separate to plan for each possible emergency.

Shaw and Jessie Olvera, safety officer, also said that although the final draft of the emergency plan was published June 14, it is still a working document.

The ISFC also subcontracted Televent, a full-time weather organization to monitor the weather for the duration of the State Fair. In addition to taking supplemental weather precautions, the entire fair commission took and passed a National Incident Management System course through FEMA.

Although the lives of those who were lost cannot be brought back, the fair commission plans to train all 1,200 State Fair employees, including seasonal workers, by the start of the fair on Aug. 3.

In response to questions about a lack of emergency response policy last year, chairman Lacy said:

“My heart goes out in answering the questions. It did not exist, but it does today.”


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