We won’t know for some time what exactly went wrong at AstroWorld, but we do know what should have been in place to keep the concertgoers safe.
When tens of thousands of people are packed into a confined area like NRG Park, crowd surges of some form are to be expected, security industry experts say, and certain precautions should be implemented.
“It’s very natural when the lights go down or somebody takes the stage, the entire crowd takes a step forward. It’s just natural, you move toward the point of interest. … And depending on the density of the crowd, that can become extremely dangerous,” said Tamara Herold, an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Herold researches crowd management and works with security firms and sports leagues around the world to ensure public safety at large-scale events.
While Herold couldn’t comment on the security at the Astroworld Festival, citing a lack of publicly released information, she said there are general steps organizers can take to mitigate risk at such festivals.
High-density events such as Astroworld carry with them inherent dangers, which have played out to tragic ends at concerts and sporting events throughout modern history. More specifically, Herold’s research has found that there is a much higher likelihood of violence and injury at events with general admission seating, the standard at festivals such as Astroworld.
One way to mitigate that risk is to separate the crowd into more manageable sections, Herold said. Videos posted to social media do appear to show the area in front of the stage separated into four sections.
If a crowd surge turns dangerous, the next best bet is to notify the performer, have them pause the show and encourage the crowd to settle down, according to Herold.
“If you allow the concert to continue, the pressure will continue to build, people will begin to panic and then they behave in ways that create even more pressure in the crowd as they try to escape, and it creates a very desperate situation,” Herold said.
See here and here for some background. Professor Herold is speaking in general terms, and what she says makes a lot of sense. This particular event should have had its own safety protocols, and there are questions about whether they were followed.
Astroworld had a plan for all sorts of emergencies. It designated who could stop a performance and how. It included a script for how to announce an evacuation. It detailed how to handle a mass casualty event.
Whether promoters followed it Friday evening, when eight concertgoers died and scores were injured during Travis Scott’s headlining performance, is unclear.
The Houston Chronicle obtained the 56-page “event operations plan,” which the festival promoter developed to ensure the safety of 50,000 guests at the sold-out event at NRG Park.
“Astroworld, as an organization, will be prepared to evaluate and respond appropriately to emergency situations, so as to prevent or minimize injury or illness to guests, event personnel and the general public,” the document states.
Attendees described an entirely different scene: an overwhelmed venue where security personnel were unable to prevent fans from being crushed. Where medics were too few. And where production staff were unwilling to halt the show despite pleas from fans that others had collapsed.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said a review of the plan — and whether it was properly followed — should be part of an objective, third-party investigation of the tragedy.
“What I know so far is that Live Nation and Astroworld put together plans for this event,” Hidalgo said Saturday. “A security plan, a site plan. That they were at the table with the city of Houston and Harris County. And so perhaps the plans were inadequate. Perhaps the plans were good, but they weren’t followed. Perhaps it was something else entirely.”
Litigation will provide a window into that, but that’s a slow process. Judge Hidalgo is right, we need a thorough investigation; I’m not sure what a third-party investigation would look like, but as long as everyone has sufficient faith in whoever is leading it, that’s fine by me. The goal should be to come to some answers, even just preliminary ones, in a short time frame. We all need to know how and why this happened. Ken Hoffman and Texas Public Radio have more.