A 56-page event operations plan for the Astroworld music festival included protocols for dangerous scenarios including an active shooter, bomb or terrorist threats, and severe weather, but it did not include information on what to do in the event of a crowd surge.
But that’s what authorities believe happened Friday night when eight people died after headliner Travis Scott took the stage at the outdoor festival in Houston that is now the focus of a criminal investigation. Authorities have said 50,000 people attended the event.
Among the hundreds injured was a 9-year-old boy who was trampled and remained in a medically induced coma at a Houston hospital Tuesday, according to his family.
“In any situation where large groups of people are gathering, there is the potential for a civil disturbance/riot that can present a grave risk to the safety and security of employees and guests,” the plan said. “The key in properly dealing with this type of scenario is proper management of the crowd from the minute the doors open. Crowd management techniques will be employed to identify potentially dangerous crowd behavior in its early stages in an effort to prevent a civil disturbance/riot.”
If crowds are displaying threatening or destructive behavior, security and a supervisor should be notified, the plan said.
Experts say crowd surge deaths happen because people are packed into a space so tightly that they are being squeezed and can’t get oxygen. It’s not usually because they’re being trampled.
None of the people listed in charge of managing Astroworld’s security and operations have responded to requests for comment.
Over 300 people were treated at a field hospital on site and at least 13 were hospitalized.
Bernon Blount said his son and 9-year-old grandson, Ezra, had come from out of town to attend the festival together. But they became separated during the crowd surge, Blount said, setting off a frantic search to locate Ezra who was eventually found at a hospital. Blount said his grandson’s heart, lungs and brain were injured in the melee.
“My son, once he had passed out from the pressure being applied to him during the concert, he passed out and Ezra fell into the crowd,” Blount told The Associated Press. “When my son awakened, Ezra wasn’t there.”
Houston’s police chief said Monday that he met with Scott to discuss safety concerns before the rapper performed on Friday. Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said Scott’s head of a security also attended that meeting, but he did not provide details of their conversation in a statement released by the police department.
Houston police and fire department investigators have said they are reviewing surveillance video provided by concert promoter Live Nation, as well as dozens of clips from people at the show that were widely shared on social media. Investigators also planned to speak with Live Nation representatives, Scott and concertgoers.
Live Nation said in a statement Monday that full refunds would be offered to all attendees.
Scott’s scheduled appearance at the Day N Vegas Festival in Las Vegas this weekend was canceled, according to a Scott representative who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Scott, who founded the Astroworld festival, said he would cover funeral costs for the victims. The dead ranged in age from 14 to 27 and came from Texas, Illinois and Washington state, according to Harris County authorities. They included high schoolers, an aspiring Border Patrol agent and a computer science student.
It could be several weeks before medical examiners release the causes of death, said Michele Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.
Astroworld’s security and emergency medical response protocols filed with Harris County and obtained by the AP states “the potential for multiple alcohol/drug related incidents, possible evacuation needs, and the ever-present threat of a mass casualty situation are identified as key concerns.”
The plan instructs staff to “notify Event Control of a suspected deceased victim utilizing the code ‘Smurf’.” It goes on to say, “never use the term ‘dead’ or ‘deceased’ over the radio.” It’s not clear whether the protocol was followed.
There is a long history of similar catastrophes at concerts, as well as sporting and religious events. In 1979, 11 people were killed as thousands of fans tried to get into Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum to see a concert by The Who. Other crowd catastrophes include the deaths of 97 people at a soccer match in Hillsborough Stadium in 1989 in Sheffield, England, and numerous disasters connected with the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.