Travis Scott’s Astroworld tragedy is “preventable,” says the expert

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When concert safety consultant Paul Wertheimer first saw video of Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival in Houston, where at least eight people died on Friday during a wave of crowds on Scott’s set, his conclusion came. is based on decades of experience.

“This was preventable. The crowd was allowed to get too dense and was not handled properly, “he said.” The fans were victims of an environment they could not control.

Wertheimer has been the lead prosecutor for concert safety since 1979, when he was an on-site investigator the night 11 people were trampled to death at a Cincinnati concert by the Who. He compiled the post-concert report on failures, including festival seats, which led to the deaths, and over the next four decades, he supported crowd safety measures through his company Crowd Management Strategies.

In 2000 at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, when nine people were trampled to death at a Pearl Jam concert, Wertheimer consulted with the Danish government about preventative solutions. He testified in civil cases against concert promoters and security companies. Over the decades, Wertheimer has come to an unfortunate conclusion.

“Life is cheap. Young people are still exposed to extreme dangers, “he said. The main reason is that” the people who organize and approve these events are not held criminally liable for gross negligence. And as long as the promoters, the artists, the security, the venue , the operators and city officials who approved these plans will not be held criminally liable, this will continue to buzz. “

The tragedies of the Who, Pearl Jam and Travis Scott all share a similar trait: the so-called seating of the festival. A first-come, first-served approach to the ticket office replaces reserved seats, or any seat, in favor of a shoulder-to-shoulder general admission experience. Those who have been to a festival for the past three decades, whether it be Coachella, Stagecoach, Bonnaroo, or Woodstock ’99, have taken part in the festival seating. The legendary 1960s Woodstock and Altamont concerts used festival seating, but even in the early 1970s its use was rare enough to deserve a mention in reviews.

The festival seats offer fans willing to line up early the opportunity to get up close and the space in which to dance or, at a Travis Scott concert, snooze. For promoters like Astroworld’s Live Nation, festival seating means more tickets sold. Wertheimer said one seat could take up 6 square feet of space; a crowded event like Astroworld might only allow 2 square feet of space per person.

Crowd control measures have improved since 1979. Goldenvoice’s Coachella, held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, separates the main stage field into grids divided by heavy iron barriers, and the resulting channels prevent the exit of large-scale puddles or lit control crowds. The approach also allows security to access trouble spots more easily.

Wertheimer said that reefs, which he describes as “like a coral reef that you put in the ocean to break the waves,” can be effective, but not always. The Roskilde Festival used the barriers to disperse the crowd, he explains. “If you overcrowd a place, people can get squeezed in the middle. It won’t necessarily work if you don’t take other precautions. “

He added: “Travis Scott was known for having chaotic gigs, so it probably wouldn’t have worked with him. If it’s Pink Floyd, it’ll work. “

Travis Scott performs Friday at the Astroworld Festival in Houston.

Travis Scott performs Friday at the Astroworld Festival in Houston.

(Amy Harris / Invision / Associated Press)

Quite often, the promoter is responsible for the following crowd safety guidelines, Wertheimer said, noting that in particularly intense shows like Scott’s, security guards usually maintain some sort of presence, not just on perimeters but in the crowd. itself. But Wertheimer said some major security companies train their staff to avoid dangerous situations. “Their manuals say ‘Don’t get involved. You could get hurt and then we’ll get the worker’s pay. Or contact your supervisor. ‘ So people are dying and you are trying to reach your supervisor. “

An Astroworld attendee specifically noted the lack of security personnel. “I’ve been to Lollapalooza in Chicago, it was nothing like that. There should be a lot of security there, just to be safe, “Julian Ponce, 21, told The Times. A first-day video documented a wave of fans breaking through VIP gates, only to be thwarted by officers on horseback. .

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner acknowledged the previous violation at a press conference on Saturday: “It was something we had under control,” he said.

“There are many questions that have yet to be answered,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, saying 528 police officers were assigned to the concert, “plus 755 security guards provided by Live Nation.”

Lina Hidalgo, chief executive of the Harris County surrounding Houston, noted that the festival has tightened its safety on the latest Astroworld event by more than 150 people, after a barricade breach in 2019.

“It doesn’t matter how many police and security officers there were if they aren’t in the correct position and aren’t trained in crowd management,” Wertheimer said of those numbers. “None of those people were in the crowd. There weren’t any close enough to the front barriers. ”He added that very often police officers aren’t assigned to crowd management anyway.

The Live Nation concert promoter released a statement that read, “Heartbroken for those who were lost and hit at Astroworld last night. We will continue to work to provide as much information and assistance as possible to local authorities as they investigate the situation. “

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said the concert was inspected in advance, including access to entrances and exits. “What we are looking at is what led to the increase in crowds,” Peña said. “It was crowd control on stage that was the problem.”

Wertheimer said he had a specific problem with something Peña said at the press conference on Saturday morning, that “the crowd started squeezing towards the front of the stage, and that caused some panic, and it started to cause some injuries “.

It’s a completely wrong structure, Wertheimer said. “When the Houston Fire Chief says people were panicking, he tells me right away that he has never been in a crush on a crowd. People weren’t panicking. They were trying to save their lives and save the lives of the people around them. “

“There was like no airflow in there. It was just like primal instinct: I had to get out, ”Astroworld participant Gerardo Abad Garcia, 25, told the Times.

Whoever is to blame, legal action is likely to follow. In the wake of the deadly Who concert, the families of the victims are suing not only the band, but the venue, its directors, the city of Cincinnati and the concert promotion company.

“Sixteen-year-old Suzy, or 18-year-old Johnny, are not crowd handlers, firefighters or security guards,” concluded Wertheimer. “They have the right to assume that someone is taking care of their safety, but as with concerts and festivals, too often there is no safety net for them – and they are the last to find out.”

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