When concert safety consultant Paul Wertheimer saw the video of Travis Scott’s Astro World Festival in Houston for the first time, his conclusions were based on decades of experience.
“It is preventable. The crowd is allowed to become too dense and not managed properly,” he said. “Fans are victims of an environment beyond their control.”
Wertheimer has been responsible for concert safety since 1979, when he was an on-site investigator, and 11 people were trampled to death by the World Health Organization at a concert in Cincinnati that night. He compiled a post-concert report on failures that led to death (including holiday seating), and advocated crowd safety measures through his company’s crowd management strategy for the next four years.
At the Roskilde Music Festival in Denmark in 2000, 9 people were trampled to death at the Pearl Jam concert. Wertheimer consulted the Danish government for preventive solutions. He testified in a civil lawsuit against the promoter of the concert and the security company. Decades later, Wertheimer came to an unfortunate conclusion.
“Life is cheap. Young people still face extreme danger,” he said. The main reason is that “the people who organize and approve these activities do not bear criminal responsibility for gross negligence. As long as the sponsors, artists, security personnel, venues, operators, and city officials who approve these plans are not criminally liable-this is the case Will continue.”
The tragedies of The Who, Pearl Jam and Travis Scott all have a similar feature: the so-called Festive seating. Adopt the first-come-first-served ticketing method, which replaces reserved seats or any seats, which is conducive to the general admission experience side by side. Those who have participated in the festival in the past three years, whether it is Coachella, Stagecoach, Bonnaro or Woodstock ’99, have participated in the festival seats. The legendary concerts Woodstock and Altamont of the 1960s used festival seats, but even in the early 1970s, its use was so rare that it deserves to be mentioned in the comments.
Festival seats provide fans who are willing to line up in advance to watch them up close, as well as space to dance, or revel in Travis Scott’s concert. For promoters such as Astroworld’s Live Nation, holiday seats mean more tickets are sold. Wertheimer said that a seat may take up 6 square feet of space; a crowded event like Astroworld may only allow 2 square feet of room per person.
Since 1979, crowd control measures have improved. Goldenvoice’s Coachella was held at Indio’s Empire Polo Club, dividing its main arena into a grid separated by heavy iron fences. The resulting canal prevents large-scale mosh pits or crowded crowds from leaving control. This method also allows security personnel to more easily access the point of failure.
Wertheimer said that he describes it as “like a reef you place in the ocean to repel waves” barriers may be effective, but not always. He explained that the Roskilde Festival uses obstacles to disperse the crowd. “If a place is overcrowded, people may be crowded in the middle. If you don’t take other precautions, it won’t necessarily work.”
He added: “As we all know, Travis Scott’s concert is messy, so it might not work with him. If it’s Pink Floyd, it will work.”
Wertheimer said that in most cases, promoters are responsible for complying with crowd safety guidelines, and pointed out that in particularly high-energy performances such as Scott’s, security guards usually maintain a sense of presence, not only in the surroundings, but also in the crowd. But Wertheimer said that some major security companies instruct their personnel to avoid dangerous situations. “Their handbook says’Don’t get involved. You may get injured, and then we get workers’ compensation. Or contact your supervisor. So people are dying and you are trying to contact your supervisor.”
An Astroworld participant specifically pointed out the lack of security personnel. “I’ve been to Lollapalooza in Chicago, it’s totally different. There should be a lot of safety measures there, just for safety,” 21-year-old Julian Ponce told The Times. A video earlier in the day recorded a group of fans breaking through the VIP gate but being blocked by police on horseback.
Houston Police Chief Troy Fenner admitted earlier violations at a press conference on Saturday: “This is something we are under control,” he said.
“There are still many questions to answer,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, noting that 528 police officers were assigned to the concert, “plus the 755 security guards provided by Live Nation.”
Lina Hidalgo, CEO of Harris County near Houston, pointed out that after the roadblock breakthrough in 2019, the festival strengthened security at the last Astroworld event, adding more than 150 personnel.
“If they are not in the right place and they have not received training in crowd management, then it does not matter how many police and security there are there,” Wertheimer said of the numbers. “None of those people appeared in the crowd. Not enough of them were close to the obstacle in front.” He added that in most cases, the police would not be assigned to the crowd management.
Live Nation, the promoter of the concert, issued a statement that read as follows: “The people who were killed and affected at Astroworld last night are heartbroken. We will continue to work hard to provide them with as much information and help as possible while investigating the situation by local authorities. .”
Houston Fire Department Chief Samuel Peña (Samuel Peña) said that the concert was inspected in advance, including the entrance and exit. “What we are investigating is what caused the population surge,” Peña said. “The problem is crowd control on stage.”
Wertheimer said that he posed specific questions about what Peña said at the press conference on Saturday morning, which is that “the crowd began to squeeze towards the front of the stage, which caused some panic and started to cause some injuries. .”
Wertheimer said this is completely wrong. “When the Houston Fire Chief said that people were panicking, it immediately told me that he had never been crowded by a crowd. People were not panicking. They tried to save their lives and the lives of those around them.”
“There seems to be no air current. It’s like primitive instinct: I have to go out,” Gerardo Abad Garcia, a 25-year-old Astroworld participant, told The Times.
Who should be blamed, lawsuits may follow. After the deadly Who concert, the families of the victims not only sued the band, but also sued the venue, the director, the City of Cincinnati, and the concert promotion company.
“Suzie, 16, or Johnny, 18, is not a crowd manager, fire chief or security guard,” Wertheimer concludes. “They have the right to assume that someone is taking care of their safety, but like in concerts and music festivals, they often don’t have a safety net-and they are the last to find out.”