Astroworld Was A Crowd Control Nightmare. Here’s What Could Have Prevented It.
The Astroworld music festival descended into chaos on Friday night when at least eight concertgoers died and hundreds more were injured in a dangerous crowd crush during Travis Scott’s performance in his native Houston.
Authorities are still working to find out what specifically caused the crush that night. But instead of blaming things like drugs and the music genre, safety experts are pointing to a larger issue that affects whether a tragedy like the one at Astroworld can be prevented: crowd management.
“Just being prepared. … It’s a horrible disaster, catastrophe, but not totally surprising. So where did we go wrong? We as a society, I guess. Where did we go wrong and not try to prevent that?” Jim Narva, executive director of the National Association of State Fire Marshals, told HuffPost. “We have to take prevention seriously, and lives will be saved.
“This isn’t the first event in a music venue, you know, we’ve had the Station Nightclub fire back in ’03. A hundred people died there. They came in a door, there were fireworks, the interior lit on fire, they tried to go out the same door. People were wedged into that door and couldn’t get out and died,” he added. “But a crowd manager or crowd managers could have helped direct people. Somebody has to know what’s going on in that facility or that venue when things go wrong so they can help people get out. That’s the whole idea.”
The authoritative standard for crowd management, ANSI ES1.9-2020, defines the term as measures taken in the normal process of facilitating the movement and safe enjoyment of people within confined spaces. Crowd management is prevention, and it requires security and event organizers to have an understanding of the venue’s design and operational features, as well as the characteristics of the crowd attending an event.
The standard makes sure to differentiate crowd management from crowd control, which it defines as measures meant to address a situation in which a crowd has reached the limits of safe behavior and urgent action is needed to prevent crime or injury ― in other words, when the crowd management plan was unsuccessful.
According to the standard, safety experts recommend the DIME-ICE model for analyzing risks and managing crowds. The model says event organizers should consider four ways a crowd can be influenced during an event: “design” of an event space; “information,” such as communicating safety decisions with the crowd; “management” systems, like emergency plans, barricades and easily identifiable security staff; and “expectations” from both the crowd and promoters on how the event will play out.
Those four influences should then be applied to the “ICE” portion of the model, which assesses their effect on crowd activity before, during and after an event ― otherwise known as ingress, circulation and egress.
“I know with Astroworld there were a lot of concerns and comments that the emergency responders couldn’t get to those who were hurt or injured, or in some cases passing away,” Narva said. “So having adequate entrance and exits, or ingress and egress, that’s not just for the crowd, but it also helps separate that a little bit by having aisles and, well, entrances and exits and some barricades where people can’t go to try and control that crowd a little bit.
“So it’s not only for the safety of the concertgoer but also those emergency responders that are trying to respond into that mayhem and help people,” he added. “You know, they’re at risk, they can’t get in there and do their jobs. So it really creates a bad situation not only for attendees but the responders. So it’s all about life safety.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association’s Life Safety Code, events require trained crowd managers in public assemblies such as large nightclubs, auditoriums, ballrooms and arenas. Event organizers must develop a life safety evaluation for large venue or festival-seating events, one that requires event organizers to consider a wide range of scenarios and hazards that may require special attention and planning.
Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña previously said that there were 528 police officers on site at the concert, along with 755 private security personnel. Crowd management standards suggest there be at least one crowd manager for audiences that exceed 50 people, and an additional crowd manager for every 250 additional people. Though the number of security officers at Scott’s concert met the standards, it’s unclear how they were dispersed and how many security officers were near the stage, where the occupant load rose too high.
Live Nation, the concert promoter, has not responded to HuffPost’s request for comment on how many members of security were near the stage, how many medics were present, if any security members were specifically trained in crowd management and what the barricade configuration was near the stage. The entertainment giant also did not provide any specific steps it’s taking to change how it approaches crowd management at future concerts and festivals it promotes.
A spokesperson for the Houston Police Department did not respond to the same questions, pointing instead to information the department is posting on its Twitter account that does not answer HuffPost’s questions. On Monday, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner released a statement saying that he had met with Scott and the musician’s head of security prior to the main event, when Finner expressed concerns regarding public safety.
Police declared the festival a “mass casualty event” about 30 minutes into Scott’s performance, saying that they asked promoters at that time to stop the concert. Police said first responders arrived just a couple of minutes after the declaration, however, Scott’s concert didn’t end until 40 minutes later. Narva said that crowd configuration and size, the lack of a mass communication system with attendees and Scott continuing the concert created a much longer response time for first responders.
“I have long objected to the demonization of any particular type of entertainment or crowd configuration. The music or sporting event does not cause injury ― instead it is the choices made during event planning and how people behave at the event that make the difference,” Event Safety Alliance Vice President Steve Adelman said in a statement posted on Saturday.
“At any type of event, including this one, it is worth exploring whether something said or done onstage influenced the crowd to move or respond in a way that incited the crowd crush,” Adelman said. “I worked a case a few years ago where the artists definitely caused the crowd to rush forward, and then barricades failed and people fell onto a concrete concourse below the [general admission] lawn. Incitement does happen, but one should not assume just because of the genre of the event.”
Scott, a multiplatinum rapper, has been arrested twice on charges of disorderly conduct related to crowd rushes at his shows, pleading guilty to minor charges after being accused of inciting riots. The first arrest, in 2015, came after he encouraged Lollapalooza festival attendees to breach security barricades and surge forward, chanting “We want rage!” in a stampede that injured a 15-year-old girl. That was the year Scott blew up in the music space, going from small shows to teaming up with big-league rappers and hip-hop artists.
In 2017, police arrested Scott again on charges of inciting a riot for encouraging fans to rush the stage and bypass security at a performance in Arkansas. One attendee at a concert soon after in New York City said in an ongoing civil case that he was partially paralyzed after Scott encouraged people to jump from a third-floor balcony and then had him dragged onstage.
In 2019, a crowd surge at Astroworld ― named after Scott’s 2018 album ― led to some spectators being hospitalized. The incident led security to increase fencing and barricades on Friday, a move some concertgoers said actually made it difficult to escape the crush.
In a video statement on Instagram, Scott said that, despite acknowledging an ambulance in the crowd on Friday, he did not realize the extent of the emergency ― adding that he usually halts his concerts to ensure injured fans can make it to safety. The artist continued to perform after acknowledging the ambulance, and Finner noted officials at the scene worried that ending the concert early would cause a riot.
Peña said that some of the blame falls on Scott for failing to react fast enough, telling The New York Times that the performer is the “one person who can really call for and get a tactical pause when something goes wrong.” It’s unclear how much Scott could really see of the crush from the stage.
“Our staff has met with local authorities to provide information, and we have also provided them with all footage from our CCTV cameras,” the statement said. “Load out of the site and equipment is currently paused to give investigators the time they requested to walk and document the grounds. Full refunds are being offered for all those who purchased tickets.
“And most importantly we are working on ways to support attendees, the families of victims, and staff, from providing mental health counseling to setting up a health fund to help with costs for medical expenses,” it continued. “Our entire team is mourning alongside the community.”
Narva said that the most important thing a venue, promoter and artist can do to curb the likelihood of a crowd crush and resulting casualties at a concert is to have a plan about what authorities will do in such an event, have some expectations as to what kind of event this is, think through all the potential failure points and what could go wrong, and be prepared to execute a strategy should those failures happen.
“You just have to use some logic, common sense, past experience and training to do it. It’s so much about prevention, and I think concertgoers, or anybody in a big venue, they want that, they’re fine with that,” he said. “Those people that passed away in Astroworld did not expect to die that day. I’m sure they went to that concert to have a good time and enjoy their music. So prevention, prevention, prevention.”