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When It Comes to Concert Stages, There Are No Universal Standards

Guidelines for the construction of temporary stages are voluntary, and enforcing uniform safety standards is nearly impossible


Thursday’s deadly collapse of another outdoor concert stage in stormy weather conditions could lead to tougher construction standards – but any such standards will surely be difficult to enforce.

Each summer, thousands of temporary stages are erected around the globe for outdoor concert series. Each stop on the tour, bands and their crews have to contend with local laws.

Consider the latest tragedies: Outdoor concert stages in Ottawa, Indianapolis and Belgium have collapsed in the past month, causing the death of more than a half dozen; scores more have been injured.

That's three different storms, three different cities – and, crucially, three different stages, built by different companies using different specs and different safety standards.

"These collapses highlight the fact that there are no enforced guidelines for temporary structures in the concert business," said Gary Bongiovanni, the publisher of the concert-industry trade journal Pollstar.

"There are some guidelines," he told TheWrap on Thursday, "but they're voluntary. And it'll be hard to put enforced rules in place, because on a concert tour you're dealing with the local laws in every city."

International standards would be even harder to implement.

Also read: At Least 3 Reported Dead in Another Summer Concert Stage Collapse (Video)

Bongiovanni blamed the collapses to fierce weather rather than faulty construction: "No temporary structure is going to be able to withstand the kind of winds that can come up in storms like these."

But based on the videos of the incidents, he does think that some of the stages were safer than others. In Ottawa, for instance, he said the drapes on the side of the stage were tied closed, when reasonable safety standards should have allowed them to open in high winds.

"If you look at the video from Indianapolis, the side drapes there are working the way they're supposed to work," he said. "In Canada, they clearly weren't." 

Onstage equipment was also destroyed in Tulsa, although no one was injured in that incident.

Plasa, an international organization providing technical resources for the entertainment industry, publishes voluntary guidelines for the construction of temporary stages for outdoor events. Its latest update of the standards is due to be released in October, and is currently available for public review at the company's website

Also read: Death Toll Up to 5 in Indiana Sugarland Stage Collapse (Video)

Bongiovanni thinks that the rash of collapses may increase the call for uniform standards – but in a business in which most touring acts are forced to rely on a new array of local engineers, designers, construction crews and promoters in each city, he said uniformity will be hard if not impossible to enforce.

"You have very well-established companies doing work in this field, and you have other companies putting up temporary structures with nowhere near the same level of engineering," he said. "Sometimes you go with the lowest bidder, and that can mean there are compromises made."

"I doubt we'll ever really have national rules," he added. "But if more people started adopting the Plasa guidelines, at least we'd have something to gauge it against."