Sounds mostly okay to me, but one person who knows a lot more about this stuff than I do is not impressed.
A task force formed after the deadly Astroworld concert unveiled a clearer agreement Monday between Houston, Harris County, NRG Park and those seeking permits for major events that local leaders say will improve safety — but one expert said falls far short of protecting people or living up to the promises of reform after 10 people perished last November.
The interlocal agreement between the city and county revises the current major event plan, last amended in 2018. Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia, a member of the task force, called it a “great step in a collaborative fashion to look at things in our front windshield,” that included more specifics on the authority to reject permits, review safety plans and standardized the permit applications filed to the city and county.
Mayor Sylvester Turner said he was satisfied the new agreement helps clarify responsibilities and offers a clear set of rules.
“They just were not aligned as they needed to be,” Turner said of protocols in place during the Astroworld disaster.
A veteran mass event expert, however, said his review of the new agreement provided little hope for improvement.
“They simply have taken 12 months to come up with a two-and-a-half page agreement … that can still be interpreted different ways,” said Paul Wertheimer, founder of Los Angeles-based Crowd Management Strategies, and a 40-year veteran of safety planning and protocols for large events.
Wertheimer called the new agreement a “clumsy approach to address the critical failures of Astroworld.”
The new agreement, which for now only covers NRG Park as a pilot of a more universal agreement, applies to any event with an expected attendance of 6,000 or more. The new agreement also requires a unified command center so law enforcement, medical staff and firefighters are operating in the same location or on the same radio channels on-site at the event.
“Thank goodness we all got together,” Police Chief Troy Finner said, noting the new agreement allows him to reject any security plan.
Previously, details for major events did not specify who exactly had the authority to reject plans for not following protocols, leaving decisions up to various offices with the city and county.
The existing agreement “painted in broad strokes,” said Steven Adelman, vice president of the industry group Event Safety Alliance, which helped design local standards for major events.
“What we have done, frankly, is paint with much finer strokes,” Adelman said.
Communication was one of many issues raised after the Astroworld disaster. Lack of a unified command structure, confusion about who bore responsibility for turning off the music as Scott played and design details of the fencing that corralled the crowd on three sides have been blamed for creating confusion as people were crushed by the forward-pressing mob of music fans.
None of those issues are satisfactorily addressed by the new agreement, Wertheimer said. The new agreement leaves open standards for crowd size, and does not require approval of a crowd management plan — different from an emergency plan — which details established exits and what safeguards are in place to avoid a crowd surge or rush that can trample or asphyxiate people.
“There appears to be a lack of knowledge about crowd management,” Wertheimer said, adding that many locations have far more detailed plans than Houston.
In Chicago, for example, any event with an expected size of 10,000 or more must receive approval from the city’s parks board, after review by several city departments.
While the new agreement more explicitly states the authority of police and fire to control the site and stop the show if needed, Wertheimer said making that more clear without actual tangible changes in the rules is insufficient. Nor should any of the ongoing lawsuits related to the event stop public officials from strengthening rules or changing regulations.
See here for the background. Note that this is not the same as the state task force, whose recommendations were “ridiculed” according to Wertheimer. Like I said, I don’t know enough to really evaluate this, and I was not able to find a copy of the report so all I know is what’s in this story. I would love to hear a 15-20 minute interview with Paul Wertheimer and Steven Adelman, to hash out what is good, bad, deficient, unnecessary, innovative, and whatever else about this report. CityCast Houston, please make this happen.