HOUSTON — A nationally-recognized crowd safety expert said analyzing what went wrong at the Astroworld Festival begins with the layout of the concert itself. Unlike arena concerts with reserved seating and permanent aisles, a festival-style, standing-room-only setup is the most dangerous.
“From Elvis Presley on, everybody has known this is problematic," said Paul Wertheimer, founder of Crowd Management Strategies.
“It forces people in the crowd to work against each other,” he said. “This is the worst thing that can happen in crowd safety.”
The Los Angeles-based Wertheimer has provided crowd safety guidance for more than 30 years. He said festival-style configurations require special precautions to reduce crowd density and ensure first responders have clear pathways to treat anyone needing medical attention.
Those details should be listed in the concert promoter’s special event permit application. The City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Special Events requires permit seekers to file a security control plan and an emergency medical plan.
"Who approved the risk assessment, the crowd management plan, and the emergency plan ... who prepared those? I want to see that,” Wertheimer said. “And then you're going to find out where everything went wrong.”
City and county leaders said they’re reviewing what promoter Live Nation submitted.
“Perhaps the plans were inadequate, perhaps the plans were good but they weren’t followed, perhaps they weren’t followed, perhaps it was something else entirely,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said at a Saturday afternoon media briefing.
“It’s important to ascertain from last night what took place, what happened, where missteps may have occurred,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said 528 Houston Police Department officers were inside and around NRG Park as well as 755 private security guards on scene. As for medical care, Live Nation hired a third-party company to be on site.
“For a non-event, it would have been enough but it escalated,” Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said.
The crowd-crushing event quickly spun out of control and required 62 HFD units to respond, Peña said. Eight people died and 25 concertgoers were taken to the hospital.
Peña said inspectors were out earlier this week checking out the stage, tents and all entrances and exits. He said there were no reports of any exit doors blocked at the Friday night concert.
The problem was so many in attendance, especially those tightly packed near the stage simply couldn’t get to those exists.