COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Popular videos circling social media left many people concerned about their safety after false reports of shots fired prompted thousands of people to frantically ran out of the South Carolina State Fair Saturday night.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department confirmed again on Sunday that a shooting did not occur at the State Fair Saturday night.
They say reports of a shooting started as a rumor, which led to panic and caused people to run.
Both the general manager and director of safety at the state fair told WIS they were pleased with how their emergency plan was executed Sunday; but some eyewitnesses who were at the fair Saturday night describe the scene as ‘mass chaos,’ and wish there was a stronger emergency plan.
Tiffany Brittain says she was there during the stampede of people running for safety, and during that time she says communication was poor, and how to find an exit was difficult.
“I don’t know what their plan was, but I don’t believe anything was really utilized to make the situation better or prevent these things from happening,” Brittain said. “They need to take more precautions, and they need to have more employees there, to make sure that if something like that were to happen they know how to handle it, they need to be trained on how to handle it.”
South Carolina State Fair Director of Safety Matt La Schuma said there is an emergency plan in place the fair aside from what Richland County Deputies are tasked to do.
While the specifics of the plans are not released publicly, La Schuma assures WIS superintendents to go over an emergency plan with each of the roughly 500 employees prior to the start of the fair each year.
“Of course when that event happens you need a few seconds, minutes to get notifications out to get people in position and place,” La Schuma said. “The first thing we did is make sure we shut down admission to come into the fairgrounds that way again no other incidents can occur if something did happen on the fairgrounds, we prioritize exits, we put additional exits in our north and our south gate, we notified the highway patrol to make sure that they are prioritizing outbound traffic.”
Specifically, regarding Saturday’s incidents, both the north and south gates were used to help filter people out of the fair.
La Schuma said their PA system is routinely used for missing and lost children, but not as a message to direct people to exits, which is something he said officials will be looking into adding soon.
“We did not hear anything over the PA system, they didn’t say anything, they were just walking around, we had employees just telling us where we couldn’t go and nobody was listening,” Brittain said.
After Saturday’s incident La Schuma said he will be reviewing their emergency plan further, such as adding appropriate signage guiding people to gates and better utilizing their PA system, but ultimately he says he believes the number of exits were ample.
“I think it was just north of 67,000 [people], anytime you try to evacuate a large number of people like that there is going to be a delay in gates getting people out even if we had 10 gates, there is going to be a delay there so people’s patience were very much appreciated, especially with the type of event that occurred with the panic that that instills on people here on the ground,” La Schuma said. “We’re realistic to know when a situation like that happens, that’s going to be in kids heads, they are going to remember that moment at the fairgrounds, so all we can do is make sure we’re prepared that if a situation like that occurs again, unfortunate as it may be, that we can prepare and we can react accordingly.”
Officials say Richland county EMS transported 13 patients from the fairgrounds area to local hospitals Saturday night.
All patients had minor injuries. There were no reports of gunshot wounds.