As I write this column, it has been five days since the collapse of the Dallas Cowboys’ practice facility, and at this point, all we have are speculation and unanswered questions. Hopefully, by the time this issue reaches your mailbox, we will have some answers, but OSHA has just begun its investigation, and I predict that it will be months before they make a definitive conclusion as to what caused this disaster. What we do know is this: On May 2, a line of thunderstorms moved through the region, and the area of the facility, according to the National Weather Service, was hit by a microburst—a downdraft of up to 70 mph. During the storms, the metal-framed, high-tension fabric structure collapsed, injuring 12 of the 70-plus people inside. Scouting Assistant Rich Behm suffered a severed spinal cord and is now paralyzed from the waist down. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy.
The possible variables that may have contributed to bringing down the 85-foot-tall structure are seemingly endless. Could the microburst have been too strong for the building to handle? Possibly, though building records show that it was meant to withstand 90 mph wind gusts, and no other buildings in the area suffered structural damage. The fabric roof was replaced last year, after just five years of use, and was never inspected by city officials. Perhaps an inspection would have uncovered minor construction flaws that may have contributed to the failure of the structure. Had the facility been an air-supported structure rather than a frame-supported structure, would there have been fewer injuries? Who knows. As I said before, at this point, it’s all speculation.
In the wake of this catastrophe, please remind yourself, and your crew, to be vigilant about evaluating and maintaining the safety of your facilities. Take a few minutes every day to inspect aspects of the field that you normally may not, and be assertive in sharing your concerns with management. That small step could make a huge difference in the safety of your facility.