As a fan at a concert or music festival, you shouldn’t have to worry about your safety. Yes, you should stay hydrated and wear comfortable clothing, but you should not have to think about whether you’ll be crushed by overcrowding, assaulted because security isn’t paying attention, or trampled because entrances and exits aren’t properly manned. Crowd safety is the responsibility of event organizers, not fans.
It takes proper coordination of event security, medical personnel, crowd managers, and a host of other parties to make sure a live event is safe for every attendee. Everything from ticket sales to the maintenance of the venue itself will impact crowd safety. Event organizers like Live Nation and others have made billions of dollars putting on events that give fans the opportunity to see their favorite performers. They are responsible for making sure people aren’t unwittingly exposed to situations where their very lives hang in the balance.
Unfortunately, that’s what happened on the night of November 5, 2021, at the third Astroworld Festival in Houston, Texas. The event took place at NRG Park and was sold out with 50,000 fans in attendance. According to Houston Fire Department logs, police had already requested riot gear by 8:15 a.m. Venue fences were damaged and security had lost control by 10:02 a.m. The first stampede happened at 2:00 p.m. By 9:30 p.m. when Astroworld organizer and headliner Travis Scott was on stage, the situation had turned deadly.
10 people died as a result of a crowd surge that night at NRG Park. The youngest was just 9 years old – he was on his father’s shoulders when his dad passed out from being crushed by the crowd. The boy didn’t stand a chance when he fell.
In the aftermath of the horrifying incident, people wondered why the concert went on for 40 minutes after it had been declared a mass casualty event by local authorities. Houston’s Chief of Police expressed concern about “riots when you have a group of people that’s that young.”
Why Fans Aren’t to Blame
With a tragedy like what happened at Astroworld, there is no scenario where the blame should be placed on the crowd or even individual fans. The age of the crowd is irrelevant. The energy and excitement of the fans do not matter. What matters is that event organizers did not take proper measures to anticipate problems and prevent overcrowding in the first place. While it will take a complete investigation into this specific incident to determine its cause, the fans should not be targeted for being present at a venue that was ill-equipped to handle the crowd.
In fact, when fans at Astroworld realized what was happening, they tried chanting “Stop the show!” Some even climbed camera towers to try to get help from cameramen. Their pleas were ignored.
Crowd safety and crowd management are not new concepts. There are comprehensive ordinances, procedures, rules, and guides regarding managing fans at large venues, and organizers must follow these in order to keep everyone safe.
Strategies for Crowd Safety at Large Venues
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers helpful information regarding crowd safety and how to properly manage crowds at live events. NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, includes specific safety requirements unique to assemblies of large crowds.
Crowd safety requirements include:
- Occupant Load: For venues larger than 10,000 square feet, occupancy should be limited to no more than 1 person for every 7 square feet of space. This limit is enforced to prevent overcrowding.
- Life Safety Evaluation: When there are going to be more than 6,000 people at a venue, a life safety evaluation should be completed. This should address and provide safety measures for any eventuality, such as fire hazards, the nature of the event, medical emergencies, movement, crowd density, weather, disturbances, and more. It should also include coordination between facility management, performers, security personnel, medical personnel, event organizers, and emergency response agencies.
- Auditorium/Arena Floors. At venues where the floor area of the arena or auditorium is used for reserved seating and/or general admission areas, designated entrance and exit routes must be created and managed to ensure fans have access to their seating areas. Emergency personnel, crowd management, and security officers must also be able to easily access any part of the auditorium or arena floor at any given time.
- Emergency Action Plans. An Emergency Action Plan (EAP) must be created, which will include such items as evacuation procedures, building details, procedures for handling specific types of emergencies, inspection and maintenance of building facilities, and more.
- Crowd Managers. Any assembly should have at least one trained crowd manager. When there are more than 250 people in a crowd, the organizer or venue should provide additional trained managers, at a ratio of at least 1 per 250 people. Crowd managers will be responsible for handling the crowd in emergency and non-emergency situations. They will coordinate with venue staff, security, and medical personnel to accomplish this.
Effective Event Crowd Management Is the Answer
Crowd management is a job in and of itself. It is an essential part of organizing and running a live event, and its importance cannot be understated. When planning concerts, sporting events, and festivals with thousands or tens of thousands of attendees, crowd management is necessary to keep everyone safe.
Crowd managers are responsible for keeping audiences under control in order to minimize the risk of serious injury and also disruption of the event. It may take a team of ushers and security personnel to effectively manage crowds coming in and out of a live event. Security officers should be manning entrances, checking bags, and having fans walk through metal detectors, as needed, to check for weapons and other banned items. Ushers will be responsible for helping fans find their seats, ensuring aisles remain clear, directing fans to exits when needed, and controlling access to certain areas, like VIP sections. Crowd managers will oversee all of this.
In addition to having training on crowd management as a whole, all crowd management personnel must have onsite training. This means they need to be trained on the venue’s structure, layout, policies, and procedures. Crowd management plans must also comply with the local fire code.
Holding Negligent Event Organizers Accountable
The only reason event organizers, private security companies, event medics, venues, or other parties will try to blame fans for concert injuries is to avoid liability. They want to sell tickets, not pay money to injured fans or families who lost loved ones in the worst possible way. It takes a certain type of firm to stand up to multi-billion dollar corporations and their insurance companies. It takes attorneys who have faced off against the biggest opponents – and won. It takes Arnold & Itkin.
Our firm is known nationwide for standing up for people who have endured horrific injuries and losses. People come to us during the most difficult times, and we apply our experience, knowledge, and resources to help them find answers and get the treatment and support they need. In all, we’ve won over $10 billion for our clients. We don’t give up and we don’t stop fighting because we know what we do makes a difference.