Guidelines for Building Stages
An area of great concern is the physical set up of the event. Planners need to consider what performance facilities are needed, what special structures are needed for indoor or outdoor events, and whether temporary structures can be used. These are just a few primary concerns.
There are three principal ways to gather information about the anticipated crowd:
- Review press reports and contact local public safety officials who were present at previous performances;
- Speak with spectators who have attended adolescent entertainment events such as rock concerts (in the past, spectators have provided valuable insights into what behavior authorities might expect from audiences for different entertainers); and
- Check with the promoter to determine audience behavior at past events and the type of crowd and their behavior that can be expected.
At some venues first aid personnel are located under the stage to accept injuries occasioned at the front of the spectator area. However, a stage or a platform alone is usually insufficient to deter determined and agile spectators, and an additional physical barrier is needed in front of the stage.
Per ADA requirements there are NO exceptions to the stage being accessible, which could be by a ramp or a lift. If the stage was 6”(inches) tall, the ramp would be required to be a minimum of 6’(feet) long. Stages can be accessed by a portable ramp, kept on site, that could be put into place when needed, but typically this is only done for stages under 12” tall. If the stage was 36” high, the ramp would be required to be 36’ long (usually a switch back configuration) with compliant handrails.
During concerts held indoors, an effective practice is to erect a “V” shaped barrier in front of the stage to deflect patrons away from the stage area should any surge come from behind. The “V” shape also provides an additional barrier to prevent spectators from reaching the stage. Security staff can position themselves in this spectator-free zone or should be able to gain access to it quickly from either end of the stage. Barrier posts must be securely anchored to the floor, not merely mounted to freestanding bases. They should also have some padded protection. Such a fence construction is usually engineered to provide a certain amount of “give” upon impact, thus reducing the potential for crush injuries as occasioned in the 2000 Denmark, Pearl Jam concert tragedy.
Board fences similar to the “V” shaped barrier described for indoor concerts can be used in an outdoor setting. Board fences have the added benefit of providing a walk space on the spectator side of the fence as well as behind it. Because most outdoor concerts do not provide seating, spectators in the front rows seated on the ground have to take a position several yards back from the fence to permit them to see the stage over the top of the fence. This area permits emergency access to the front rows of spectators.
Any stage protection barrier must be designed to sustain a certain amount of flex in order to prevent the crushing of spectators in the front by a crowd surge from behind. At the same time, it must be sufficiently solid so that it will not collapse and cause injuries. Fences installed as stage barriers often fail to meet this two-fold requirement
Break-Away Stage Skirts
The front skirt around the base of a stage can be constructed to break away under the pressure of a crowd surge, thus allowing spectators to be pushed under the stage rather than be crushed against its base. However, this idea is not practical where there is less than six feet clearance, beneath the stage because of the potential for head injuries should a spectator collide with the leading edge of the stage.
It should be stressed that use of a breakaway stage skirt does not remove the requirement for a barrier in front of the stage and should be considered only as additional security if barriers fail.
Due to their transitory nature, many events require easily constructed temporary structures.
These include the stage platform itself, as well as towers to house speakers and floodlights, temporary seating such as bleachers, dance platforms, roofs, towers and masts, viewing platforms, marquees and large tents, and decorative items such as archways, overhead signs, and even sideshows.
All such temporary structures must be designed and erected to include a margin for safety and a view to potential hazards. A local, government, building-codes inspector should supervise the erection of temporary structures and ensure that they conform to local government building or engineering specifications.
Temporary structures are often hurriedly erected since access to the venue may be permitted only a short time before the event opens and they are usually designed for rapid removal at the conclusion of the event. In addition, these temporary structures are frequently neither designed nor erected to withstand stresses other than from intended use and are therefore not engineered to incorporate safety features. High winds or spectators climbing for a better vantage point can overstress these structures. A number of accidents have occurred in the past when such poorly designed or constructed structures are stressed in these ways.
- Personnel should inspect temporary structures periodically during events of long duration.
- They should post warnings on or close temporary structure whose intended purpose is being violated.
- Most events use standard-sized portable, mobile or riser stages. The use of standard four-foot by eight-foot (4’x 8’).
Risers placed either at a single level or stacked, typically in eight inch (8”) increments to create and elevated performance area typically does not require review by building officials. Use of portable trailers and mobile units is common and typically does not require a building permit if the stages remain affixed to the wheels of the vehicle and a license plate is affixed to the vehicle. If footings or a foundation are affixed to the wheels of the vehicle and a license plate is affixed to the vehicle. If footings or a foundation are affixed to the ground, a building permit may be required.
If your event plans include elevated platforms, walkways, seating areas or stages for use by the general public that include a finished floor that is more than thirty inches above the lowest adjacent grade or floor, you will be required to obtain a building permit.
The expected behavior of the crowd is one of the principal factors determining stage configuration. While classical music and ballet performances usually attract a mature and orderly audience, teenage and pre-teen fans at rock concerts have been known to storm the stage in order to touch their idols. Such incidents, apart from being disruptive, have caused injuries. Therefore, event planners should understand the emotional and physical character of the audience that a particular performance will attract.
All structures have load capacities, and precautions should be in place to prevent misuse through overloading. Any viewing platform or vantage point, such as a building verandah or balcony, can cause a major incident if the number of spectators upon these structures is not properly controlled.
The bases of temporary structures must be protected from damage by vehicular traffic through the use of designated buffer zones.
Ideally, all seating should be reserved; however, this desire may be difficult to achieve at outdoor events.
If most of the spectators are 16 years old or younger, provide seating to control surges and crushing at the front of the stage. A security presence to ensure that audience members do not stand on seats is also recommended. Seating should be adequately anchored to prevent its movement.
Another area of concern is the spacing of the seats. The seating should be spaced far enough apart to allow emergency personnel access to patients. Often grouping the seats and providing large walkways between the groups is a way to do this.
Temporary Seating and Anchorage
Seating in a community center, arena, or similar indoor location often combines fixed perimeter seating with additional foldable or stackable seating on the central floor.
Temporary seats are often not secured to the floor or to one another. While this may not present any problems with ordinary audiences, more enthusiastic spectators may pose the following problems:
- Persons standing on the seats for a better view are prone to injury because they may lose their balance or are jostled. In such instances, they can adversely affect other spectators, sometimes causing a “domino effect” in closely spaced chairs. The potential for a significant number of injuries exists; and
- If an audience becomes hostile, portable chairs can be used as dangerous missiles. It is not uncommon for hostile fans to become aggressive and throw items. Seats not anchored become dangerous projectiles.
Portable, folding, or stacking chairs should be secured to the floor. Where this is not possible, attach the legs of each row of chairs to two long planks, one running under the front pairs of legs and one running under the back, as an alternative solution.
Fencing is typically used to delineate all or portions of an event venue. Most events use freestanding fences. If you plan to use stakes, footings or other materials you must receive authorization to disrupt surfaces below ground level. If you use materials weighted by water to secure the fencing, do not release any water into the storm water system. The Fire Marshal will also determine a maximum occupancy for the fenced area and corresponding number of required accessible exits.