Concert safety expert: Deaths at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival were ‘preventable’

When Paul Wertheimer, a concert safety consultant, first saw video of Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival, Houston, where at most eight people were killed Friday due to a crowd surge, his conclusion was based upon decades of experience.

” This was preventable. He said that the crowd had become too dense and wasn’t managed well. “The fans were the victims of an environment in which they could not control.”

Wertheimer has been leading the charge 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 prepared the post-concert report, which included festival seating failures that led to the deaths. Over the next forty years, he has advocated for crowd safety through 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 on preventive solutions. In civil cases against security companies and concert promoters, he has testified. Wertheimer’s life has been a series of decades.

” Life is expensive. He said that young people still face extreme dangers. The reason is that organizers and approvers of these events aren’t held criminally responsible for gross negligence. As long as the promoters, artists and security personnel, as well as city officials, who approved these plans, are not held criminally responsible, this will continue to drone on .”

The Who’s tragedies, Pearl Jam, and Travis Scott all share a similar trait, the festival sitting .. A first-come, first-serve approach to ticketing, it replaces reserved seats, or any seats at all, in favor of a shoulder-to-shoulder, general admission experience. Those who have been to a festival in the last three decades, be it Coachella, Stagecoach, Bonnaroo or Woodstock ’99, have partaken in festival seating. Legendary ’60s concerts Woodstock and Altamont utilized festival seating, but even in the early 1970s its use was rare enough as to warrant a mention in reviews. Festival seating allows fans to get closer views and more space to dance, or, as at Travis Scott concerts, to mosh. Festival seating is a way to sell more tickets for promoters like Astroworld’s Live Nation. Wertheimer stated that 6 feet could be used for a seat, while Astroworld’s packed events might allow only 2 feet per person.

Crowd-control measures have improved since 1979. Goldenvoice’s Coachella is held at Indio’s Empire Polo Club. The grids are divided by heavy-iron barriers. These canals keep large-scale mosh pits and heaving crowds under control. This allows security personnel to gain access to trouble spots easier.

Wertheimer said that barriers, which he describes as “like a reef that you put in the ocean to break up the waves,” can be effective, but not always. He explains that barriers were used to disperse the crowd at Roskilde Festival. People can be crushed if there is too much people in a space. It’s not necessarily going to work if you’re not taking other precautions.”

He added: “Travis Scott was known to have chaotic concerts, so it likely wouldn’t work with him. If it’s Pink Floyd, it’s going to work.”

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

Travis Scott performs at Houston’s Astroworld Festival on Friday.

(Amy Harris / Associated Press )

Most often, the promoter is responsible for following crowd safety guidelines, Wertheimer said, noting that at particularly high-energy shows such as Scott’s, security guards usually maintain some sort of presence, not just on the perimeters but in the crowd itself. Wertheimer stated that major security companies instruct their staff to avoid dangerous situations. Their manuals state, “Don’t get involved. There are two options: you could be injured or workman’s compensation. Or contact your supervisor.’ So people are dying and you’re trying to reach your supervisor.”

One Astroworld attendee specifically noted the lack of security personnel. “I was at Lollapalooza Chicago and it was nothing like that. There should be a lot of security there, just to be safe,” Julian Ponce, 21, told The Times. Video from earlier in the day showed a crowd of supporters breaking through VIP gates. However, officers riding on horseback stopped them.

Houston Police chief Troy Finner said that the earlier breach was acknowledged during a Saturday press conference. He stated, “It wasn’t something we could control.”

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

Lina Hidalgo, chief executive for Harris County surrounding Houston, noted that the festival stepped up its security over the last Astroworld event by more than 150 personnel, after a barricade breach in 2019. “It doesn’t matter how many security officers and police were present if they’re not in the right location and they’re not trained to manage crowds,” Wertheimer stated about those numbers. “None of these people were in the crowd. They were not enough to be near the front barriers.” He also said that police officers rarely are assigned to crowd management.

Concert promoter Live Nation released a statement saying: “Heartbroken to those lost and impacted last night at Astroworld. We will continue working to provide as much information and assistance as possible to the local authorities as they investigate the situation.”

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena said the concert was inspected in advance, including access to entrances and exits. Pena stated that the issue was “the crowd surge.” “It was the crowd control at the stage that was the issue.”

Wertheimer said he takes specific issue with something that Pena said during the news conference on Saturday morning, that “the crowd began to compress towards the front of the stage, and that caused some panic, and it started causing some injuries.”

That’s framed entirely wrong, Wertheimer said. “When the Houston fire chief says that people are panicking, it tells you straight away that he has never been in a crowd crush. People weren’t panicking. They were trying to save their lives and save the lives of people around them.”

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

Whoever is responsible, lawsuits are likely to follow. The victims’ families filed lawsuits against the band, their directors, Cincinnati, and concert promoter company in the aftermath of the Who concert.

“Sixteen-year-old Suzy, or 18-year-old Johnny, are not crowd managers, fire marshals or security guards,” Wertheimer concluded. “They have a right to assume somebody is looking after their safety, but as is the case at concerts and festivals, all too often there is no safety net for them — and they’re the last ones to find that out.”

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