Big festivals like Astroworld require certain safety precautions, industry experts say

When tens of thousands of people are crammed into a confined area like NRG Park, crowd influxes of one form or another are to be expected, security industry experts say, and certain precautions need to be implemented. .

“It’s very natural when the lights go out or someone takes the stage, the whole crowd takes a step forward. It’s just natural, you are moving towards the point of interest. … And depending on the density of the crowd, it can become extremely dangerous, ”said Tamara Herold, associate professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Herold researches crowd management and works with security companies and sports leagues around the world to ensure public safety at large-scale events.

Although Herold could not comment on safety at the Astroworld festival, citing a lack of publicly disclosed information, she said organizers can take general measures to mitigate risks at such festivals.

Live Nation did not release details on security to Astroworld and did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement, the company said, “Our hearts are with the family of the Astroworld festival tonight – especially those we have lost and their loved ones. We are focused on supporting local authorities as we can. “

High density events such as Astroworld have inherent dangers, which have tragically unfolded in concerts and sporting events throughout modern history. Specifically, Herold’s research found that there is a much higher likelihood of violence and injury at events with general admission seating, the norm at festivals such as Astroworld.

One way to mitigate that risk is to separate the crowd into more manageable sections, Herold said. Videos posted on social networks seem to show the area in front of the stage separated into four sections.

If a crowd wave becomes dangerous, the next best bet is to let the artist know, ask them to pause the show and encourage the crowd to settle in, according to Herold.

“If you allow the concert to go on, the pressure will continue to build, people will start to panic and then they will behave in a way that creates even more pressure in the crowd as they try to escape, and that creates a very desperate situation. said Herold.

The tragedy at the Astroworld festival


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While Live Nation did not disclose details of the security operation at the festival, police and firefighters said a massive crowd began to march towards the stage around 9 p.m., shortly after the organizer and headliner Travis Scott took the stage.

Houston Police said Live Nation agreed to stop the show after authorities declared the concert a “mass event” at 9:38 p.m. ET. Scott interrupted the show at times, asking security to help some injured people in the crowd, but appeared to end his ensemble, leaving the stage around 10:15 p.m.

At the end of the night, eight people died and dozens more were injured.

At no time did Live Nation use its public address system or video panels to broadcast safety messages, attendees said.

“It’s just about having a protocol ready. If you haven’t prepared these messages, by the time you figure out what’s going on, it’s too late, because this dynamic is happening very quickly,” Herold said.

The Entertainment Services and Technology Association and the Event Safety Alliance, in their written standards, state that “event planners should prepare at least basic scripts to deal with the most predictable emergencies that may arise in their circumstances “.

Scott, who has been arrested multiple times for urging crowds to ignore safety at his concerts, calls his fans “angry” and is known for his frenzied and unbridled performances.

However, Steven Waldman, vice president of the Event Safety Alliance, said it was far too early to rush to judge how the tragedy unfolded.

“For my part, I won’t blame all the rap shows, general admission crowds, ‘crowd panic’ or any of the other usual suspects who almost invariably get it wrong once you work harder. to understand the root causes of a crowd disaster, “said Waldman.

Paul Wertheimer, founder of Crowd Management Strategies Co., which provides analytics and solutions for large events, told the Houston Chronicle that festivals play with fire when they maximize their profits by bringing as many people as possible together. place.

“It creates dangers because you are forcing the individuals in the crowd to compete for a prime location,” Wertheimer said.

There were around 367 police and 241 security guards in place to oversee the estimated crowd of 50,000, which does not include the hundreds who were seen going through security checkpoints to enter the festival. Friday afternoon.

However, without the proper training and positioning, no amount of personnel would have been able to stem the tide of humans flowing in one direction, Wertheimer said.

“Those killed and injured have been caught in an environment beyond their control,” Wertheimer said.

Live Nation, the dominant force in the live entertainment industry, has been linked to at least 750 injuries and around 200 deaths during its events in seven countries since 2006.

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said the events of Astroworld are now under criminal investigation, and a flurry of lawsuits are expected against Live Nation, Scott and others.

Andrew Dansby and Gabrielle Banks contributed to this report.

sam.kelly@chron.com



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Susan W. Lloyd