When We Are Right, We’re Still Wrong

We Are Right, or Wrong

A video clip about a possible storm approaching and how the storm could disrupt a flower show under a clear span tent revealed some disturbing things. (Select this Link Flower Show) The tent company did everything right; the clear span structure was ballasted correctly and the installation followed the manufacturer’s guidelines. However, in the video the reporter and landscape person maintained that the tent was a safe haven if the storm arrived, and they both suggested that attendees seek safety inside the tent. But, that was not such a great idea in the Village of Wood Dale last summer.

We cannot control what the client says or does during a potential storm, but we can produce an evacuation plan that states the procedures to follow if threating weather approaches. We cannot make the client follow the rules, however, having the client sign an evacuation plan document means the tent vendor has performed their due diligence.

The first thing we need to do is educate ourselves by knowing the limitations of a temporary tent or membrane structure. We also need to educate our clients and AHJ’S about these limitations and how to enact the evacuation plan.

We start by creating model evacuation plans. We need to have more than one evacuation plan because one evacuation plan does not fit all circumstances. The concept for the new SAFTSE model evacuation plan makes the number of attendees the trigger. The first model’s trigger number is less than 150, the next model is between 150 – 500 attendees, and the last model is 500 -1000. The Event Safety Alliance Group covers events over 1,000 attendees. As the number of attendees and the size of the event grows the responsibilities increase. The SAFTSE model will address these responsibilities and in what manner the assigned person(s) can manage theses conditions.

These new models do not signify a demise of the tent rental business because there are many more safe days than bad days. If there was a threat of a tent related hazard every week, there would not be a tent rental business.

What SAFTSE is endorsing is turning a potential wrong into a safe right.

SAFTSE is, in the beginning, stages of forming a model evacuation plan committee consisting of tent rental companies and Fire Marshals. Our group has commitments from two Fire Marshals and two tent rental companies to help develop these plans. We are looking for additional members, so please contact us if you are interested in participating in our project.


Join TRAM and become part of the solution

We need your support by becoming a member of SAFTSE we will generate the necessary funding to produce a Common Body of Knowledge. What is a common body of knowledge? The CBK areas are designed to provide documentation for evacuation plans, support for tent permits, and development of standards and references.





Standards for the tent rental industry






The world standard for broad gauge railway line is 4 feet and 8½ inches between the parallel tracks. This odd figure has its origin in the axle width of Roman army chariots designed to accommodate the rear ends of two horses yoked side-by-side.
Reference Business Dictionary 

If the railroad industry can substantiate using horses rear end to develop a standard, I am confident the tent rental world can produce a series of standards that will encourage a safe environment for our guests.

May I suggest we start out with a modest, but still relevant a soil testing standard. We begin by referencing the US Dept. of Agriculture has U.S maps that contain information on soil data, types, and densities. The data and description establish support for our regional soil variations.

Establishing a soil testing average: Our objective is to determine an average soil type as a starting point. You have to take into consideration how moisture can affect the soil conditions. The only option for the changing circumstances is your due diligence to re-test and re-stake. Without a starting point, it becomes a challenge to establish comparisons to quantify our testing.

The Test: To develop our testing process we will start with ASTM symposia papers “Field Testing of Soils” and specifically document STP 322 titled “Prototype Load-Bearing Tests for Foundations of Structures and Pavements.” Taken from the abstract the description states, Practical applications of these concepts and principles of simulated performance and prototype load-bearing tests are covered. Suggestions are made for field procedures that incorporate these concepts and principles. Using these principles, we begin our experimental testing process.

Upon Further Review: We continue defining our test by contracting an engineering group familiar with tent and membrane structures to quantify our procedures. Once we obtain the results together with the agreement of satisfaction, we then ask knowledgeable members of the IBC and IFC to critique our findings and offer suggestions that would enhance and legitimize our test as a reference and in the future an I-Code standard.

The Scope: What we have demonstrated is the beginning stages of a soil testing scope. The crucial phase in developing a manageable scope is forming a subcommittee. The subcommittee’s criteria for success begins with strong leadership, management skills, and above all consensus support from the tent rental industry.

If the railroad industry can use horses rear ends to define a standard, our future development of standards is unstoppable.

Weak Work Item Poor Standard

One of the most important steps towards constructing a standard is the foundation of the Work Item Proposal. On the other hand, a poorly constructed Work Item will make it difficult for the authors and reviewers to know what the content is declaring.

A Work Item related to the tent and membrane structure industry should state how the standard will be used. The Work Item task group should address the following questions:

  • Would this standard qualify as a reference to the ICC?
  • Will other government agencies or regulatory bodies adopt the standard?

I requested a draft of Work Item WK45190 and got no response. So I decided to compare the Wk45190’s scope and the questions that a work item should answer.

I reached out to the ICC for guidance and found a document stating how standards must comply with the ICC Council.

The Rules:

  • Any standard proposed for adoption in any of the I-Codes must comply with ICC Council Policy (CP-28 Section 3.6).
  • The referenced document must be a consensus-developed standard; not a practice or guideline. The standard must be written as mandatory/enforceable requirements.

The Conclusion:

  • The Work Item WK45190 has inconsistent terminology in its draft scoping statement. The Work Item WK45190 references terms such as practice, requirements, standards, guidelines, and taken into consideration does not fit the criteria I-Codes states to comply with the ICC Council Policy.

SAFTSE is asking the WK 45190 subcommittee to explain their reasoning behind crafting this Work Item because it is apparent that the scope does not comply with the ICC Council Policy. If the concept of this standard was not intended for code regulations, would the subcommittee please respond and explain how this standard will support tent rental companies with the local AHJ’S (authorities having jurisdiction) addressing their safety procedures and permitting applications.

As SAFTSE members, we have a responsibility to become part of the solution not expand the problem. First we need a response before we can offer solutions. The ball is in your court and the clock is running.

What I Learned Last Summer

What I learned last summer came from two diverse experiences.

First I was invited to be a member of the ICC Fire Code Action Committee, and secondly I purchased a Jackson Cosa HD fishing kayak. Both of these experiences were firsts. This is the first time I have been asked to become a member of a national committee that shaped policy. And I have never fished out of a kayak, and adding to the kayak challenge I decided to use a 9-foot fly rod to fish for smallmouth bass and one crazy Muskie.

What I learned from the committee members was the amount of knowledge, passion, and patience required to be committed to developing regulations for safe and secure events. Also, allowing me to have access to the committee members outside of the scheduled online meeting thru email or a phone call allowed me to ask for clarification, how the current code was formed, or why a change, addition or deletion was proposed.

What really became apparent was when a standard from the entertainment world ANSI E1.21 was introduced and the value of the standard was discussed and then accepted with little opposition, the ANSI E1.21 standard provided rules and acceptable guidelines that where appropriate for special event structures. A committee member brought to our attention how the ASNI E1.21 standard was referred to as an entertainment standard. His concern was about tents and membrane structures that were designed for fireworks tents or other displays that he did not consider special events. The chairmen changed General 3105.1:  Temporary stage canopies. Special event structures shall comply with Section 3104, Sections 3105.2 through 3105.8 and where applicable, ANSI E1.21 for temporary entertainment structures. The phrase “where applicable” was added during the conference call and accepted. It was incredible how the committee discussed and then established the change and moved on.

Outside of the committee conference call I asked a committee member,  “What is your definition of secure anchorage?” The answer was “You are from the tent and membrane structure world, so you tell us.” I emailed him a document produced by IFAI that defines proper staking techniques for a tent or membrane structures. He asked, “is it a standard?” My answer was no. He then said, “Deliver a standard and you will have answered your own question about secure anchorage using stakes.”

The committee is challenging the tent and membrane structure community to make available standards and become part of the process that develops solutions and defines special event regulations for a safe environment.

Speaking of development of standards, ASTM has posted a work item, which is the first step in developing a standard. The ASTM reference number is WK 45190, and the abbreviated title is Tent, Canopies, and Membrane Structures initiated 2/14. Start a conversation with the technical contact, ask questions about the scope, and request a current draft. If you do not participate in this collective body of knowledge, you have no one to blame but yourself.
Follow this link and become involved. http://www.astm.org/DATABASE.CART/WORKITEMS/WK45190.htm

My kayak has become the mobile office where great ideas and blog posts begin, along with epic battles with 16-18” smallmouth bass. Although a distraction at times when the phone rings; yea right! I am sticking with the mobile office concept and if you want to discuss a problem and create solutions, the mobile office is at your disposal. It is not tax deductible, but I am sticking with the concept that solutions and ideas were conceived floating down the river last summer.

Compliance and Enforcement.

Narrowing the gap between compliance and enforcement.

My describing a poorly designed installation is last week’s blog post does not necessarily mean that my interpretation of compliance would be accepted by the enforcement.

ballast-tentsWe do not have rules of compliance regarding anchoring there are studies, but they are not recognized by the majority of the AHJ’S nationally, statewide, or locally. Without rules of compliance, asking the AHJ to enforce the current code that states a tent must be anchored to withstand the elements has little value, only interpretation. Without industry compliance or standards attach to the tent permit, the AHJ’S hands is tied trying to resolve a poorly designed installation.

For instance, if I had contacted the local AHJ and stated that the mall installation did not meet manufacturers, recommended installation and calculated the proper ballasting required, it would have been on my interpretation. The AHJ has the responsibility to cover their liabilities and should ask, “Where in IFC Chapter 31 does it back up my interpretation?” There is none; it states that it must be anchored to withstand the elements. And there you have the beginning of another interpretation by the AHJ. Include the installer which creates the third interpretation and you have the foundation of an exciting game without rules.

To formulate a solution, it becomes imperative that conversations begin with “What is anchorage to withstand the elements?” then submit a detailed report to the IFC for the 2021 cycle. If we fail, the alternative is the IFC will create their own staking and ballasting numbers and we will have to accept their numbers.

It is not a threat from the AHJ creating a formula for proper anchorage, they are looking for solutions that cover our combined shared responsibilities and liabilities. What can we do? Start a conversation today on how to narrow the gap between compliance and enforcement!

Jim Erickson

The previous weekend a local sport shop in the mall sponsored a hunting expo in the parking lot. There was an assortment of tent sizes including 10X80, 20X20, 40X60 western style frames ballasted with 200lb concrete blocks. Please trust my judgment when I say that every tent installation was under ballasted by thousands of pounds.

I am not against using concrete blocks for ballasting as long as you have actually attempted to calculate the correct amount of ballasting for each tent and every leg that touches mother earth is ballasted with concrete blocks.frame-1

Unfortunately, a landlord may object to driving stakes into their parking lot. There is a valid reason for concern when generating and then not properly repairing holes created by driving stakes in the blacktop. Water seeps into the hole and will deteriorate the particles causing additional erosion and produces a larger hole. However, there is a fix for this and here is one of many solutions. http://www.homedepot.com/p/Quikrete-50-lb-Commercial-Grade-Blacktop-Repair-170152/100545936

There are two elements that influence every event and one is safety. For this event, in my estimation, the wind load rating was way below manufacturer specifications. You form your own opinion by viewing the photos and we can agree or respectfully disagree. The second element is the economic issue. Two companies bid on the project and one actually suggested staking or ballasting the job correctly and the other, refer to photo. The client will typically accept the lowest bid unless the client understands the ramification of hosting an event that is not a safe haven. Your presentation is a delicate balance between the value of safety, additional cost, losing the event to a competitor, the client changing the venue or canceling the event. If the client insists that you lower your proposal to match your competitor fire the client and enjoy your weekend.

And this brings us back to Proclaiming October as Blacktop Parking Lot Patching Month. The old adage that the customer is always right does not mean that the customer understands what is the appropriate solution for their event. Explain or if possible demonstrate an initiated solution that will repair the parking lot after the event is over. You have now merged both elements of safety and economics along with peace of mind for you and your client that this is a standard of reasonable expectation for their parking lot event.




Placing Economics Ahead of Safety

wood-dale-tentGiven the recent tragedies in Wood Dale, IL and Lancaster, NH we will never know for sure if the tent installation failed because of improper staking, faulty components or equipment failure. What we do understand is that there was an early severe storm warning from the National Weather Bureau and that the evacuation plan at both locations was flawed or ignored.

Both of these tragedies placed economics ahead of safety, and this will have an effect on everyone who relies on special events as a source of income. The larger impact of this tragedy was of course: on the companies that participated in these tragedies, but there is also an effect on those of us who were not involved. The obvious is a potential increase in the cost of insurance premiums along with stricter regulations that may cause an event to become cost prohibitive. However, another factor is the possible decision by the village of Wood Dale to drop the event entirely to avoid future risks as part of the risk mitigation process. The ripple effect could cause other communities to follow suit and analyze their festival risk exposures. Their decision to limit exposure could be canceling future festivals or move the festival to other venues. Both of these scenarios create an economic impact on the special events industry.

All of this happens because we as an industry, struggle to collaborate with our clients on how and when the evacuation plan should be implemented. If safety came first, the economics would not be threatened. Instead, there is renewed interest in regulations and communities could be taking an active interest in reviewing their exposure.

Economics will suffer because safety was not placed first.

Jim Erickson


“It is an Act of God”

And Gods Response is: 

Iact-of-godf you had followed best practices along with staking the tent correctly you would not have found it necessary to use my name in vain.”

From now on this blog, unless it is really, really stupid, ridiculous staking or ballasting installation will no longer be discussed. Instead, this blog is moving forward with its grassroots campaign defining installation best practices and developing solutions.

As an industry, we are spending too much time pointing fingers at competitors poorly design installations that failed. If we do not begin to develop best practices, the alternatives will not be pleasant. According to one code official, the tent rental company, and this includes special events and trade shows are looking down the barrel of a Magnum 45 that would impress Dirty Harry. As a result of doing nothing, each of these segmented industries will become regulated by code officials.

The Staging and Rigging industry faced the same dilemma over ten years ago, and their trade association decided to create documents addressing best practices. One example is the ANSI E 1.21-2013. You can read this document by clicking on the ANSI link.

What became apparent to the staging and rigging industry was that they needed to take the initiative and create procedures and standards before code officials regulated their industry. They developed new and updated existing standards and established best practices. These standards and best practices set the guidelines that created the staging and rigging industry code regulations.

Being associated with the special event industry, we must begin by defining and documenting what correct installation procedures are. If we do not and continue to gamble that nothing will happen, God will turn a blind eye, and Devil will appear in the form of a litigator.

We are an alarmist – we have time – not a lot but there is still time to develop a solution that will benefit everyone in our industry.We begin with a collaborative effort between tent companies, Authority Having Jurisdiction, manufacturers, and our clients. Thru education, life safety, and profit can co-exist as long as we continue to create and adapt to solutions that address these factors.

As an industry, we need to continue to develop solutions and convert these solutions into best practices. Once we become accustomed to using best practices, we will all enjoy a healthy and profitable business for years to come.

The Players

“Fire Marshals” primary goals are enforcing fire prevention regulations that promote life safety.

While the “Tent Pro” strives for a successful business, they understand there is a necessity for balance between life safety and profit.

“The Rest” have little regard for life safety that threatens a profit.

What if
the “Fire Marshals” and “Tent Pros” got together and discussed how the current code affected them and created a solution designed to resolve those problems. First, both sides must understand the current regulations. Starting with the “Tent Pro”, defining and demonstrating best practices from tent associations and tent manufacturers’ guidelines could create a standard to educate the “Fire Marshal” on what methods to use to inspect a properly installed tent(s). The “Fire Marshal” then informs the “Tent Pro” of their concern for life safety while enforcing the current regulations when inspecting tent installations. God forbid we could have a compromise here!

The next problem
is “The Rest”. Unfortunately the “Fire Marshals” have limited resources and man hours to inspect every event. The criteria for inspection may revolve around the number of people attending an event. We are not saying smaller events do not need the same treatment as a larger event, but in reality there are a limited amount of resources for the “Fire Marshals”  to inspect every event.

Our “Fire Marshal”,
because of the training the “Tent Pro” provided, has new tools to inspect “The Rest” installations. Oh, there will be much complaining from “The Rest” but the “Tent Pro” and the “Fire Marshal” have to become involved to create a workable solution. Otherwise, the only avenue the “Fire Marshals” has is to impose stricter tent and membrane structure regulations. These rules will cause additional hardships for the “Tent Pro” and “The Rest” will still have little regard for life safety.

Respectfully Yours
Jim Erickson

Risk Assessment and Balancing a Level Playing Field

The challenge
to create a level playing field is not competitive or pitting inspectors and tent rental companies against one another, but the primary goal is a balance between life safety and profit.

what the current regulations are and how the restrictions could affect the event becomes the responsibility of both inspectors and tent rental companies. Our level playing field begins with theses regulations.

Example: A series of twelve 20X20 tents for a small festival.

IFC regulations require a twelve-foot separation between two tents. A possible option is to discuss with the inspector a modification of adjoining two 20X20’S tents and reclassify the area as a 20X40, along with a modified Egress in your restructured configuration to satisfy the 12-foot separation.

What you are trying to create
is an acceptable plan for your client and the inspector, but coming up with a new configuration on the job site is not the ideal place to begin. Remember that “cup-of coffee” approach and getting to know the inspector we previously suggested? Start with pre-investigative work then make a phone call to the inspector, have a discussion, and work together to create a solution.Then you can explanation to the client why the design plan changed.

We have performed
an application called “Risk Assessment.” Once you identify vulnerabilities, you analyze the risk associated with that threat and determine suitable ways to control the exposure. Our example of the twelve-foot separation between tents demonstrates how we analyzed and controlled the process using “Risk Assessment.”

the current rules and explaining the possible hazards and then presenting a “Risk Assessment” plan to your inspector is the starting point in maintaining a level playing field.

Respectfully Yours
Jim Erickson