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

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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 in a crowd surge on Scott’s set on Friday, his conclusion was based on decades of experience.

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

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

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

“Life is cheap. Young people are always exposed to extreme dangers, ”he said. The main reason being that “the people who organize and endorse these events are not criminally responsible for gross negligence. And as long as the developers, artists, security, venues, operators and city officials who approved these plans are not held criminally responsible, this will continue. “

The tragedies of Who, Pearl Jam, and Travis Scott all share a similar trait: what is known as festival seating. Approaching the ticketing first-come, first-served, it replaces reserved seats, or any seat, in favor of a neck-to-neck general admission experience. Those who have attended a festival in the past three decades, be it Coachella, Stagecoach, Bonnaroo or Woodstock ’99, have taken part in the festival seats. The legendary ’60s concerts Woodstock and Altamont used festival seats, but even in the early’ 70s their use was rare enough to deserve a mention in reviews.

Festival seats offer fans keen to line up early the chance to get a closer look and have space to dance or, at a Travis Scott concert, to mosh. For promoters like Astroworld’s Live Nation, festival seating means more tickets sold. Wertheimer said a seat can take up 6 square feet of space; a crowded event like Astroworld might only allow 2 square feet of room per person.

Crowd control measures have improved since 1979. The Goldenvoice Coachella, held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, separates its main stage field into gates divided by heavy iron barriers, and the resulting canals. prevent large-scale pits or restless crowds from coming out. control. The approach also makes it easier for security to access hot spots.

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

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

Travis Scott performs at the Astroworld Festival in Houston on Friday.

(Amy Harris / Invision / Associated Press)

More often than not, the promoter is responsible for following crowd safety guidelines, Wertheimer said, noting that on particularly forceful shows such as Scott’s, security guards usually maintain some sort of presence, not only at the perimeters but in the crowd itself. But Wertheimer said some large security companies ask their staff to avoid dangerous situations. “Their textbooks say ‘Don’t get involved. You might hurt yourself and then we have the worker mockup. Or contact your supervisor. So people die and you try to reach your supervisor.

An Astroworld participant specifically noted the lack of security personnel. “I went to Lollapalooza in Chicago, it was nothing like it. There should be a lot of security there, just to be safe, ”Julian Ponce, 21, told The Times. Video from earlier today documented a stampede of fans walking through VIP gates, only to be thwarted by mounted officers.

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner admitted to the previous violation at a press conference on Saturday: “This is something that we have got under control,” he said.

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

Lina Hidalgo, general manager of Harris County surrounding Houston, noted that the festival stepped up its security during the last Astroworld event of more than 150 people, after a barricade breached in 2019.

“It doesn’t matter how many police and security officers are there if they’re not in the right place and aren’t trained in crowd management,” Wertheimer said of the numbers. “None of these people were in the crowd. There weren’t enough near the front gates. He added that more often than not, the police are not assigned to crowd management anyway.

Concert promoter Live Nation released a statement that read, “Heartbroken for those lost and affected 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 had been inspected in advance, including access to entrances and exits. “What we’re looking at is what led to the crowd influx,” Peña said. “It was the crowd control on stage that was the problem.”

Wertheimer said he was specifically disputing something Peña said at the press conference on Saturday morning, namely that “the crowd started to compress towards the front of the stage, which caused some panic and started to cause injury “.

This is totally wrong, said Wertheimer. “When the Houston Fire Chief says people were panicking, it immediately tells me he’s never had a crush on crowds. People weren’t panicking. They were trying to save their lives and to save the lives of the people around them.

“There was like no air flow in there. It was like a prime instinct: I had to get out,” Gerardo Abad Garcia, 25, attending Astroworld told The Times.

Regardless of the culprit, prosecution will likely follow. In the wake of The Who’s murderous gig, the families of the victims sued not only the group, but the venue, its directors, the City of Cincinnati, and the concert promotion company.

“Suzy, 16, or Johnny, 18, are not crowd managers, firefighters or security guards,” Wertheimer concluded. “They have a right to assume that someone is looking out for their safety, but as is the case at concerts and festivals, too often there is no safety net for them – and they are the last to be. find out. “


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