Ind. State Fair adds stronger safety regulations
Jessie Olvera stood outside the Public Safety Office at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. He surveyed the horizon, looking up and then to the officers beside him as dark clouds covered the skyline.
The wind picked up speed and threw a blanket of dust and dirt across the scattered carnival scene.
Olvera works as an emergency management officer and said he had been anticipating the inclement weather. They were prepared.
“We have a contracted meteorologist that’s on staff (and) prepare for situations like this,” Olvera said.
The Indiana State Fair was subject to a safety overhaul this year prior to opening for operation to more than 750,000 annual visitors, according to the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association. The safety reconditioning came in response to the stage collapse that killed seven people and left dozens injured on Aug. 13, 2011, at last year’s fair.
David Shaw, a veteran in entertainment industry management, was hired as chief operating officer in May. Shaw worked to redirect the fair’s emergency-response plans after Witt Associates, a company investigating the stage collapse, deemed the plans implemented at the time of the collapse insufficient.
“What I don’t tolerate is complacency, irresponsible behavior and not addressing things head-on on the fly,” Shaw said. “I tend to take things head on and not let them fester and snowball.”
Shaw prioritized carrying out the company’s suggestions.
“Personally, it means a great deal to me,” Shaw said. “I’m the first chief operations officer in the history of the fairgrounds. I’m honored and humbled to take the operation head on.”
Shaw characterized his position as ringleader, motivator and ethical leader and said there was a tremendous amount of pressure that came along with the title.
“I’ve been trained and groomed to take this job,” he said. “While there is pressure, it’s not pressure that is unfamiliar or unwelcome.”
Indiana State Fair Commission Chairman Andre Lacy explained the importance of the new position.
“This is much more than the run-of-the-mill addition of a staff member,” Lacy said in the release. “The Commission has set clear expectations and this is just the first step in a number of changes that will transform the Indiana State Fair into the standard by which others across the state, nation, and beyond will strive to emulate.”
Fairgoers, booth owners and staffers agree a more proactive effort has been made this year by fair operators to ensure transparency with guests.
Kara Ravenscroft helps run her family’s elephant ear stand. In Thursday’s case, Ravenscroft and a co-worker worked to ensure their booth was protected against Mother Nature’s wrath.
“These stands are pretty strong and not going anywhere,” Ravenscroft said.
Frequent text messages and phone calls from “the bosses” are all part of the deal, Ravenscroft said. As of Thursday afternoon prior to the storm, Ravenscroft had received 15 warning text messages about the expected foul weather conditions.
“I think a lot more (people) are taking it seriously since the stage collapse,” she said.
Past the food vendors and entrance to the carnival portion stands the Ferris wheel towering above the festivities. Standing before the three-story attraction was Dexter Crawford with his two sons and fiancé. The group had just arrived at the fair as the weather took a turn for the worse.
Upon making their way to the ticket booth, they discovered tickets weren’t being sold to patrons — at least for the time being.
“There’s random people walking up and down telling us to get inside and just making sure that we’re comfortable,” Crawford said. “They’re really serious about it this year.”
With this year’s fair coming to an end Sunday, Shaw said there was progress made, lessons learned and things to anticipate in years to come.
“We’ve had a very successful Indiana State Fair so far,” Shaw said. “We’ve had the stagecoach mishap, and that was an incident that was heavily investigated by Indiana State Police to ensure there was no misdoing of any kind and that no laws were broken.”
Shaw issued a letter grade to all operations that were implemented this year under his leadership. The grade: a B plus.
“The only reason I wouldn’t give us an ‘A’ is because there’s things we didn’t know,” he said. “We have never worked a fair.”
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