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Howard Co. fair organizers eye evacuation policy

GREENTOWN — Last summer's deadly stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair has spurred organizers of a local fair to expand a severe weather policy so that it includes procedures for evacuations.

The Greentown Lions Club is working on the plan in advance of this summer's Howard County 4-H Fair. President Dave Eikenberry told the Kokomo Tribune that organizers had a limited plan but wanted a more detailed protocol for how to get thousands of people safely off the fairgrounds in the event of severe weather.

"We had a limited plan, not as detailed as the one being developed," Eikenberry said. "We wanted everyone to be on the same page. We wanted a plan on how to get people safely off the fairgrounds.

"After what transpired at the state fair, we wanted to be prepared," he said.

One consideration has been the length of time needed to evacuate the fairgrounds in Greentown. Emergency Management Agency Director Larry Smith estimated it would take more than 30 minutes to clear the facility.

The plan being developed includes changing traffic patterns to one-way routes to allow for easier evacuation of the fair and establishing a four-mile buffer around the fairgrounds. Organizers also have designated facilities at the fairgrounds where people can seek shelter in case of lighting, hail or other severe weather.

"As long as the public is warned ahead of time, they can decide to take shelter at the fair," Smith said. "The plan will provide an evacuation route for people leaving the fair."

Incoming Lions Club president Rocky Simpson said organizers also rely on club member Ron Julius, a ham radio operator, who works with spotters and emergency management officials to monitor bad weather.

Howard County Sheriff Steve Rogers said his department is reviewing the plan and praised the Lions Club for being proactive. Many other counties also are working on emergency plans following the state fair collapse, which killed seven people and injured dozens more as they waited for an Aug. 13 concert by country duo Sugarland.

"They're doing the right thing," Rogers said.

Simpson said the new plan will be in place in time for the fair, which runs from July 9-14.