On the Circuit

As we went to press, news came about the tragic accident in the recently modernized Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Ala. 4/09/2013 12:08 PM Eastern

On the Circuit

Apr 9, 2013 4:08 PM, By Cynthia Wisehart

As we went to press, news came about the tragic accident in the recently modernized Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Ala. Reports say that on Friday, March 22, a large 300lb.-400lb. flight-information sign fell over onto members of the Bresette family, killing 10-year-old Luke and seriously injuring his mother Heather and his two younger brothers, Sam and Tyler. The Bresettes are from Overland Park, Kan., where Sound & Video Contractor was headquartered for more than a decade. Ron Bresette requests that people continue their prayers, which have been “amazingly helpful," as part of an outpouring of support the family will need for some time to come. I was able to make a small personal donation to the Luke Bresette Fund at St. Thomas More School—Luke, Sam, and Tyler’s school—in my 10-year-old daughter’s name; if that’s something you want to do, go to (click “online giving," then “visitors").

Birmingham was very proud of the $201 million modernization of the airport, which had opened only 10 days prior. Improvements in digital signage are one reason that airports undertake these renovations, and of course no one dreams that they will do any harm. In fact they almost never do. Big screens do tip over—some 43,000 accidents a year according to U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, with 41 fatalities in 2011. But the majority of these accidents are televisions in homes. Hundreds of thousands of large screens in schools, airports, hotels, and other public spaces are safely installed and stay that way.

That does not diminish or excuse the shocking accident in Birmingham. However, the rarity of such accidents reminds us of the vital role of design engineers, manufacturers, designers, and installers—all the people who take their work seriously and who have each other’s backs and keep their eyes open. This is no small task in our industry where we often get into the building late or unfinished. Often, as the last team in, we bear the pressure to make up the schedule for an opening day that is set in stone. I have personally seen an installer on site on his way out the door in the wee hours, stop, go back, and recheck a mount that had been modified to fit a soffit that didn’t come out like the drawing and then bring an engineer in the next day for another pair of eyes. That is just one example of many I’ve witnessed onsite. We have code and inspectors (and sometimes we don’t), but without personal responsibility and conscientiousness, our industry would not have the remarkable safety record it does.

What went wrong in this case is under investigation by the airport, local authorities, and the contractor in charge of construction, Brasfield & Gorrie. Video of technicians removing the three-monitor display panel from the terminal shows that the panel separated from the back box in one piece. Lawyers for the city confirm that it was not inspected—and that no inspection was required because the signage cabinet is not “structural." The contractors have said nothing other than to cite the investigation. The reason this happened will no doubt be clarified by that investigation and responsibility will be determined. In the meantime, thank you all for being the most important part of the safety system.

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