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Ballasting act

Features, On the Job | August 1, 2013 | By:

Tent Rental Division-developed ballasting tool provides an accurate way to calculate ballast weights.

Poet Maya Angelou is known for the saying, “When you know better, you do better.” Tent installations may be an odd application for a poet’s inspirational words, but the quote succinctly describes the tent rental industry’s new approach to accurately calculating ballast weight with the online ballasting tool developed by IFAI’s Tent Rental Division (TRD). In its first full season of use by TRD members, the tool promises a consistent and efficient way to determine safe ballast weight for a variety of tent configurations.

Design and development

Determining the proper ballast weight often requires the expertise of an engineer to juggle the variables of tent type, ballast configuration, ballast inventory, surface type, surface adjustment factor and additional safety factors. The tool is the result of a study funded by TRD and conducted by Clemson University that generated various ballast configurations, multiple formulas and coefficients of friction for different surfaces, ballasts and substrates. Tom Markel of Bravo Events, Buffalo, N.Y, was involved in the development stage of the tool. “The initial work was done by Jim Reyen of Eureka!, Binghamton, N.Y.; Joey Ruffin of Anchor Inc. [Evansville, Ind.]; and Ken Keberle of Arena Americas [formerly Karl’s Event Services, Milwaukee, Wis.],” Markel says. “[They worked] with Clemson University to devise the study, identify ballasting configurations and determine the required testing needed to gain the data to develop coefficients and formulas.”

Markel’s involvement came later, as another set of eyes to review the data and formulas to help develop a tool that could be used by members and the industry at large.

“There was not a cost effective way to determine how much ballast weight was required to properly meet the required loads provided by the tent suppliers. Rental companies were absorbing a great deal of risk by trying to estimate these requirements on their own,” he says. “It makes the process easier because a rental company does not have to hire an engineer whenever they use ballast now.” 

Reyen was a member of the Life Safety Task Force that identified the need for the ballasting tool. After sorting through the types of requests and needs of the membership, Reyen and the committee put the development of a new ballasting tool at the top of their list.

“The committee knew that many rental companies have been weighting tents against the recommendations of their suppliers. We also knew that many rental companies were not using nearly enough weight or the proper techniques to properly ballast a tent,” Reyen says. “We felt that it was important to provide the rental members the ability to achieve the loads required by the manufacturers for both staking and ballasting.” 

The effort began to take shape in 2008 when the Life Safety Task Force included a study to determine the need for a ballasting tool in its list of future projects. The task force gathered ballasting information from members the following year and launched a fact-finding operation in 2010 that included surveys and a ballasting webinar in August 2010.

By mid-2011, a membership-approved and funded study was begun by Clemson University. Data from the university’s study was collected and a usable format was developed for a presentation at IFAI Tent Conference 2012.

“The aim was to identify methods to identify the least amount of ballast required to safely anchor a tent,” Markel says. “A ‘rule of thumb’ solution wouldn’t work.”

How the tool works

The tool is intended to take the load required to hold down a tent and convert it into ballast weight. Four ballast configurations that work with pole, frame and clearspan tents are options users can select.

Brian Richardson of L&A Tent Rentals in Hamilton, N.J., relied on the ballasting tool when University Medical Center of Princeton in Plainsboro, N.J., hosted a grand opening.

“We used the ballast tool for a 60-by-180-foot Eureka! E!Span™ tent,” Richardson says. “Previous to the release of the tool we had to guess on the proper amount of weights or ballasts to safely anchor a larger frame tent. This project was the first one where we utilized the IFAI Tent Rental Division online ballasting tool.”

The online tool is hosted on the secure portion of the TRD website. The development team took care to make it a user friendly interface that made quick, accurate calculations.

“It was amazing how with just a few clicks of a mouse we were able to determine the proper amount of ballast needed,” Richardson says. “The easy drop-down menu allowed us to select from many options unique to the installation, including ground surfaces, ballast type and other modifiers such as friction coefficient.”

Richardson was particularly impressed with the amount of time the tool saved and the confidence it gave his team when working with their client.

“In less than 15 minutes we could have the data available for our client and demonstrate to them the reasoning behind our recommended weight amounts,” he says. “Previous to the ballasting tool release, we were really guessing on proper ballast amounts and we now realize that we were, in some cases, severely underweighting some projects. We now use the tools for all of our ballast projects so we will have documentation for inspectors as well as our clients so they know that we are serious when it comes to the safety of their guests as well as the success of their event.”

The ballasting tool in action

In June 2013, PTG Event Services, Islandia, N.Y., installed a clearspan configuration at a polo event that offered guests a great view of the field and cover in case of rain, and incorporated an existing tree—all without staking.

“[We needed to make this] all happen with cement,” says Liz Cann, director of operations at PTG Event Services. “To achieve the correct amount of weight, we needed to build plywood roadways to access the field side, stacking 3,500-pound blocks with an all-terrain variable reach. We used the Block and Roll™ tent ballast movers, all-terrain movers and cement blocks with forklift pockets.”

Having to rely entirely on ballast to secure the installation gave PTG the perfect opportunity to use TRD’s ballasting tool. The project management team selected configuration A for its clearspan structure and consulted the tool prior to the event. Among other challenges, the installation process occurred around severe rain storms.

“The ballasting tool gave us the data needed to
ensure a safe installation, since severe weather is more common than ever,” Cann says. “This was very helpful during the permitting process as well. The ballasting tool, along with manufacturers’ specifications, enabled us to meet the inspector’s requirements.”

Before the online tool was available, the tent rental company relied on estimation to get its ballasting weight. Cann believes the ballasting tool saved her company time and money by performing the calculations for the configuration and by reducing its reliance on an engineer.

“Jobs like this require engineering and permitting. We would have to hire or consult an architect or engineer to approve our numbers,” Cann says. “The tool does that for us now.”

Jake Kulju is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis, Minn.

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