For nearly 40 minutes after Houston police and firefighters responded to a “mass casualty” event at Travis Scott’s Astroworld music festival on Friday, the superstar continued to perform.
By the time he left the stage, it had become one of the deadliest concerts in US history. Eight people died and dozens more were injured.
Fans were filmed singing “stop the show” and begging for help from the staff. One even climbed onto a camera platform to point out the injured.
Scott eventually finished his set about 15-20 minutes before the advertised time. But questions remain as to why it didn’t finish sooner.
“Half past nine, right there. That’s when some people started getting off,” Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said at a press conference Saturday.
“Our people came forward and immediately went to the producers and said to them, ‘Hey, we have people going down.’ This show ended at 10:10 pm. I just wanted to acknowledge it. “
Scott, one of the biggest names in rap music, launched the event in 2018. He said in an Instagram video that he wasn’t aware of how bad things were during his title set this year.
“Whenever I could figure out something that was going on, I just stopped the show and helped them get the help they needed,” she said. “I could never imagine the gravity of the situation.”
In footage of the concert, can be seen interrupting his performance to ask for help for a fan who had passed out.
However in another another video, may be heard saying during another pause: “Who asked you to stop? You all know what you came to do – chase me, let’s go.”
Scott’s past incidents
The rapper is known for his wild shows and has been in trouble for inciting dangerous behavior in the past.
In 2015 he was charged with disorderly conduct afterwards encourage fans in Chicago ignore security and rush the stage.
Two years later, he saw a fan hanging from a club’s second floor balcony and tried to get them to jump. In the same concert, a 27-year-old fan was paralyzed after being pushed off a third-floor balcony.
In 2019, hundreds of fans rushed into Astroworld’s barriers, with three people going to the hospital with minor injuries. Police tweeted that the event was understaffed and that “the promoters did not plan enough for the large crowds”, although the statement was later canceled.
Concerns before the show
Crowd safety concerns were raised ahead of this year’s event. A safety plan obtained from the New York Times addressed several areas of interest.
“Based on the site layout and numerous past experiences, the potential for multiple alcohol / drug related incidents, possible evacuation needs and the ever-present threat of a mass incident situation are identified as key concerns.” reads in the document.
Before Scott took the stage, local news broadcasts filmed fans breaking through the gates and bypassing security checks.
The city police chief also visited the star in his dressing room to express concern about the energy in the crowd, the New York Times reported.
So how did this tragedy happen?
Investigators will look into a number of factors, says Simon Ancliffe, founder of Movement Strategies, which advises major UK events such as Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds and the 2012 Olympics on crowd safety.
“Did they check the numbers? Are there barriers in place and were they well designed? Were the security personnel doing what they are supposed to do? Did they have good situational awareness? Did they have CCTV?”
“It seemed like they had some sort of procedure to stop the show, but it seemed to stop and start – so it was [the situation] on communications, was it about decision making? “
When tragedies do occur, he says, it’s often not a bad decision, but an accumulation of smaller mistakes that ultimately lead to catastrophe. In this case, “it looks like a lot of things have gone wrong.”
“It all comes down to planning,” says Keith Still, professor of crowd science at the University of Sussex.
“You have to anticipate that this type of performer in that type of environment will induce this type of crowd behavior – and put crowd management and monitoring systems in place to make sure you have an early warning indicator.”
Ancliffe says the teams on the pitch aren’t necessarily to blame.
“The security personnel on the barriers can see what’s immediately in front of them, but [only] few people in depth, ”he says, explaining that frontline staff need support in the form of CCTV or a higher view of the audience.
In the UK, “we have experimented with crowd managers with a really good view of the crowd from a raised position, so we can see people’s faces and look for the change of expression,” says Eric Stuart, president of the UK Crowd Management Association.
“There will always be people who will scream because they are having fun. The skill and the art form is to look at faces and listen to screams and say, ‘It’s different. Things have changed.'”
Many people in an audience are often unaware of a life-threatening situation until it is too late.
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“When you’re in a crowd, you can’t see more than a couple of people in front of you and you can’t hear what’s happening because of the music,” Ancliffe says. “So there is really bad information transfer within the crowd.
“If people push forward, they can’t see what’s in front of them. And once you’ve fallen, it’s very difficult to get up, unless people help you. What if people have bent down to help you. , then they can also be pushed very easily. “
Then it is up to the staff to identify problems and alert the performer, who can pause the show and calm the situation.
In this case, it was the public who alerted security and “demanded that things change,” Ancliffe says.
“So what was the situational awareness? What was the decision making? Other factors might be involved, but those are likely to be the things where the disaster happened.”
Some experts have even suggested that Scott’s decision to play on a separate stage with no other acts scheduled at the same time could have exacerbated the situation.
This goes against a common practice in crowd management, known as “spreading the field”, where organizers organize several competing headliners or stagger the timing of the stages to control the flow of fans.
But Scott’s performance came 45 minutes after SZA finished the day’s final set on the second stage of Astroworld. Fans who had gathered near the barriers of his $ 5 million “Utopia Mountain” arena since lunchtime were suddenly greeted by an influx of revelers, thrilled by a massive countdown to herald the star’s arrival. .
“The crux of the problem probably happened when the clock approached zero,” an anonymous source told Variety magazine.
A teenage fan said she got into trouble almost immediately.
“Once Travis Scott walked in, I told myself this is the moment I’m prepared for, I just need to breathe,” Diana Amira told NBC news. “But … my ribcage was so squeezed that I couldn’t expand my lungs to catch my breath.”
“Red card” for emergencies
Thankfully, crowd-related deaths during musical events are relatively few and far between.
“The first thing to say is that if you have an experienced crowd team in place, it won’t reach that level,” Eric Stuart tells BBC Radio 5 Live.
“If the worst comes to the worst, there is a small group of people who have what we call the ‘red card’, and it’s literally a message to the stage manager that we have to cut the music, we have to stop.
“And then we have to get the artist involved so that he talks to the crowd. Ideally, we don’t want a boy or girl in the hi-vis vest or the police to go up on stage and talk to the crowd. The artist is the best person to to do it.”
It seems to have happened during the concert on Friday. The question for the investigators will be why the music continued after the first call for help.
In his video statement, Scott claimed he was “working closely with everyone to get to the bottom of this” and described himself as “honestly just devastated.”
Will the lessons be learned?
Steve Adelman, Vice President and Chief Advisor of the Event Safety Alliance, urged not to blame at this stage.
“There is the instinct to rush to judgment before knowing what really happened”, he told Rolling Stone magazine.
Ancliffe hopes an investigation will encourage promoters to “tighten up their procedures either [concert] drawings”.
But Professor Still adds: “If you look at any other area related to safety, such as aviation, if there is a near miss or a close encounter, there is an investigation by experts and they are put in place. act new procedures to prevent this from happening again.
“Unfortunately, in the events industry, it is a matter of litigation and is generally settled out of court. I know, because I am an expert in numerous international cases.
“Court documents are sealed, information is never returned to the industry and therefore there is no learning, there is no improvement.”
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