Facility Manager — August/September 2012
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The Event Safety Alliance
Steven A. Adelman

Working to Create a Culture of Safety

IF WE DON’T LEARN FROM THE tragedies of the past, then all that remains are broken lives, destroyed property, and a trail of litigation which does nothing to keep the same things from happening again.

The terrible images coming out of Indiana last August following the State Fair outdoor stage collapse spurred a group of industry professionals to take action. What began as a series of private conversations late last year quickly turned into a group dedicated to improving safety practices at outdoor events. The discussions continued during conferences in January and February at which many of the same people kept appearing as participants and panelists. During just five weeks from Tour Link in Scottsdale to Pollstar Live! in Los Angeles to the Academy for Venue Safety & Security in Dallas and the AVSS Severe Weather course in Norman, Oklahoma, the concept of the Event Safety Alliance (“ESA”) became a reality.

As Randy Brown discussed in his Chairman’s letter in the last issue of Facility Manager, ESA’s vision starts from the premise that people who do the operations work for entertainment events need clear, easy-to-understand guidance about how to perform their tasks safely — in other words, best practices. Fortunately, with many years of industry experience between them, the group’s organizers knew that there was no need to reinvent this wheel. In the United States, there is an alphabet soup of trade associations and organizations that promulgate standards that address event production and safety, such as PLASA, IATSE, NFPA, and ANSI. Unfortunately, the rigorously vetted rules and standards that have resulted from their efforts tend to be very hard to read.

So the Event Safety Alliance found a valuable template in The Event Safety Guide: A Guide to Health, Safety and Welfare at Music and Similar Events, published by the United Kingdom’s Health and Safety Executive. This is a best practices manual divided into chapters that correspond to the different functional areas of live entertainment events, and most importantly, it can be understood by the boots on the ground. ESA decided that this book, widely referred to by the color of its cover as the “Purple Guide,” was the right starting place.

One of the people involved in these early conversations was Tim Roberts, director and safety advisor for the U.K.’s Event Safety Shop. Mr. Roberts helped draft the original version of the Purple Guide, and he got the Health and Safety Executive to consent to ESA adapting the English guide to American standards and terminology. The first piece fell into place.

Next, the organizers needed an audience for their message, which emphasized creating a “culture of safety” at live entertainment events. Indiana was receptive. Jim Digby, ESA founder and production manager for Linkin Park, and Matt Bettenhausen, Vice President for Security with AEG, arranged for a meeting with Indiana elected officials and state safety officers. In early April, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels committed to join the discussion.

Invitations went out to industry allies to show their support for Indiana’s commitment to addressing its issues and for ESA’s safety goals.

The significance of this meeting was underscored when, on April 12, 2012, consulting reports were issued by Thornton Tomasetti regarding engineering problems with the State Fair roof system and by Witt Associates regarding the State Fair’s emergency preparedness and communication. These are key issues on ESA’s agenda.

On April 23, 2012, a government office building in Indianapolis was filled with a wide array of experts in various aspects of live entertainment operations. The Event Safety Alliance was represented by temporary structure manufacturers and engineers, event safety directors, artist production managers, private meteorological services, safety training directors, venue managers, industry standards writers, insurance underwriters, and even an attorney.

After an introduction by Joe Wainscott, the Executive Director of Indiana’s Department of Homeland Security, Jim Digby gave an impassioned plea for a greater emphasis on event safety, calling it “the single most important issue facing our industry,” and he offered the Event Safety Alliance’ support for Indiana’s ongoing efforts in that regard.

Tim Roberts, who flew in from England for the meeting, then gave an overview of the Purple Guide and the merits of having a third-party “safety guy” to give organizers an unbiased assessment of safety information in real time during an event.

Following Tim Roberts, Governor Daniels promised that there would be “no more avid and attentive and receptive a student” than the state of Indiana in light of the August 13, 2011 State Fair disaster. “We’re going to go to school on those things you have to tell us and we’ll try to master them and learn them and apply them as well as any jurisdiction anywhere.”

The end of the passionate remarks and valuable information came too soon. When it was my turn to speak about legal and logistical issues related to Indiana’s quest to codify a culture of safety, I read from the Purple Guide’s table of contents. Really. My purpose was to explain how straightforward a task the legislators and state safety officials might have to adapt aspects of the guide to Indiana’s statutory and regulatory needs, and to suggest how ESA might be able to help their efforts.

Tim Roberts and Jim Digby gave a few more remarks, then the meeting came to an end. It is worth noting the particularly strong showing by IAVM. Sitting on either side of me was IAVM Chairman Randy Brown from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, his immediate predecessor John Siehl, and IAVM Director of Life Safety Harold Hansen. As well, several other participants have attended AVSS programs, most notably Jim Digby, who was my student for both the AVSS Core curriculum and Severe Weather courses this year.

Following the meeting in Indiana, the Event Safety Alliance turned its attention to both organizational and substantive issues. Organizationally, ESA selected as its officers Jim Digby, Matt Bettenhausen, Roger Sandau, the CEO of Doodson Insurance Brokerage, Stuart Ross of Red Light Management, and me (because, as Dave Frishberg sang in My Attorney Bernie, “It’s amazing all the different things your average guy might need a lawyer for”).

Substantively, ESA has formed working groups of subject matter experts to “Americanize” the Purple Guide into what we are loosely calling a Red, White, and Blue Guide. These groups are also synthesizing relevant portions of existing industry codes as well as the conclusions of the two Indiana consultants’ reports. This is a big job.

Once the first round of drafting is done, we anticipate having the new material reviewed using the same extensive vetting process as the PLASA and NFPA technical committees. Doubtless there will be further editing. Finally, I will write a lawyerly introduction which explains how the Event Safety Alliance intends for people to use the new guide, and distinguishing between a law, which one must follow at the risk of prosecution or civil fine, versus a best practice guide like this, which a reasonable person follows in order to show that his or her actions meet the industry standard of care.

I anticipate that IAVM will continue to be a leading supporter of the Event Safety Alliance. There are many natural links between ESA’s mission and IAVM’s Academy for Venue Safety & Security. Check out the Event Safety Alliance. We could always use more smart people for this interesting and important work.