Former FEMA Chief's Firm Starts State Fair Investigation

Witt Associates, headed by CEO James Lee Witt, has been hired to conduct an independent analysis of the Indiana State Fair's preparedness and response to the Aug. 13 storm and collapse of a stage just before a concert.

An independent investigation has begun into the Indiana State Fair's preparedness and response to a storm that toppled equipment from a stage Aug. 13 just before a concert was set to begin, resulting in at least six deaths. Witt Associates of Washington, D.C., is conducting it.

James Lee Witt, CEO of Witt AssociatesThe firm's CEO is James Lee Witt, who was FEMA director from 1993 to 2001 under President Clinton. He also served as CEO of the International Code Council from 2003 to 2006. His firm conducted a similar investigation into a Chicago high-rise building fire in 2003 in which six government employees died.

The Indiana State Fair Commission has hired Thornton Tomasetti, a New York engineering company, to coordinate and conduct the structural portion of the investigation, and Gov. Mitch Daniels, who spoke at an Aug. 15 memorial service for the stage collapse victism, asked the state's Inspector General to assign several investigators to the State Fair Commission to assist with fact-finding and documentation. Witt Associates staffers arrived on site last Friday.

"With Thornton Tomasetti conducting the structural investigation and Witt Associates reviewing decision-making and preparedness, we believe we have the best people in America looking at every angle of the accident," said Andre Lacy, chairman of the commission.

"We'll be looking at all factors. We'll be looking at weather information, we'll be looking at what had been done in terms of planning, and we'll be looking at individual responsibility because it was such a big production. You have multiple agencies with jurisdiction involved," said Charles Fisher, a vice president of Witt Associates.

"These tragedies we know are rare, and at the same token, we know from every tragedy will come some positives, and I think that's the role we're going to look at," said Kenneth Mallette, Witt Associates' vicepPresident for National Business Development Preparedness Services.

The firm's announcement said it is unclear how long it will take Witt Associates' investigators to prepare a report for the commission and Gov. Daniels.

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