Entertainment

Travis Scott Festival Disaster: Warning Signs Missed At Astroworld

GETTY IMAGES
Image caption,
Scott was performing in front of his home crowd in Houston, Texas

GETTY IMAGES
Image caption,
Scott was performing in front of his home crowd in Houston, Texas

For about 40 minutes after intervention of Houston police and firefighters to a “mass casualty” event at Travis Scott’s packed Astroworld music festival on Friday, the superstar went on performing.

When he left the stage, it had become one of the disastrous concerts in US history. Eight people died and lots more were injured.

Fans were filmed chanting “stop the show” and earnestly appealing for staff to help. One surprisingly climbed onto a camera platform to point out the injured.

Scott later ended his set about 15 to 20 minutes ahead of the advertised time. Still questions remain about why it didn’t finish sooner.

“Nine thirty, right there. That’s when a few people started going down,” Houston police chief Troy Finner disclosed at a press conference on Saturday.

“Our people stepped up and immediately went to the producers and told them, ‘Hey, we got people going down.’ This show ended at 10:10pm. I just wanted to acknowledge that.”

one of the biggest names in rap music, Scott, set afloat the event with concert promoters Live Nation in 2018. He stated in an Instagram video that he was not aware how bad things had become at the time of his headline set this year.

“Any time I could make out anything that’s going on, I just stopped the show and helped them get the help they need,” he said. “I could just never imagine the severity of the situation.”

Inside footage from the concert, he can be seen cutting in his performance to ask for assistance for a fan who had passed out.

Nevertheless in another video, he can be heard saying during another break: “Who asked you to stop? Y’all know what y’all came to do – chase me, let’s go.”

Scott’s past incidents

The rapper is known for his uninhabited shows, and has been in trouble for encouraging dangerous behavior in the past.

In 2015, he was charged with untidy conduct after inciting fans in Chicago to disregard security and rush the stage.

Two years after, he spotted a fan hanging from a venue’s second-story balcony and attempted to induce them to jump. At the same concert, a 27-year-old fan was disabled after being pushed off a third-floor balcony.

In 2019, hundreds of fans rushed the Astroworld barriers, with three people going to hospital with minor wounds. Police wrote on Twitter that the event was having too few staff members to operate effectively and that

“promoters did not plan enough for the huge crowds”,

even though the statement was later deleted.

Pre-show concerns

Concern about crowd safety had been raised before this year’s social occasion. A security plan acquired by the New York Times addressed some areas of concern.

“Based on the site’s layout and numerous past experiences, 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 document read.

Sooner than Scott took to the stage, local news teams filmed fans uncontrollably entering through gates and bypassing security checkpoints.

The city’s police chief also visited the star in his dressing room to deliver concerns about the energy in the crowd.

Chief Finner in a declaration, said the “brief and respectful meeting” allowed him to “share my public safety concerns” and ask the star

“to be mindful of his team’s social media messaging on any unscheduled events.”

So how could this tragedy happen?

Simon Ancliffe, founder of Movement Strategies, which advises major UK events like Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds and the 2012 Olympics on crowd safety says ‘investigators will look at a number of factors’,

“Have they controlled numbers? Are there barriers in place and were they were they well designed? Were security staff doing what they’re supposed to do? Did they have good situational awareness? Did they have CCTV?

“They did seem have to some kind of procedure to stop the show, but it seemed to stop and start – so was [the situation] about communications, was it about decision making?”

When calamities happen, he says, it’s frequently not about one bad decision but an acquisition of smaller mistakes that eventually lead to disaster. in this incident,

“it sounds like a lot of things went wrong”.

“It all comes down to planning,” Keith Still says, a professor of crowd science at the University of Sussex.

“You need to anticipate that this type of performer in that type of environment will induce this type of behavior in the crowd – and you put crowd management and monitoring systems in place to make sure that you’ve got an early warning indicator.”

Ancliffe says the teams on the ground are not necessarily to blame.

“The security staff on the barriers can see what’s immediately in front of them, but [only] a few people deep,”

he says, revealing that front line staff need back-up in the form of CCTV or a more uplifted view of the audience.

Eric Stuart, chair of the UK Crowd Management Association says, in the UK,

“we have experienced crowd managers with a really good view of the crowd from a raised position, so you can see people’s faces and look for the change in expression”

“There’s always going to be people screaming because they’re having fun. The skill and the art-form is looking at the faces and listening to the screams and saying, ‘That’s different. Things have changed.'”

Many people in an audience frequently aren’t aware of a potentially fatal a life-threatening situation until it’s 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 going on because of the music,” says Ancliffe. “So there’s really bad information transfer within the crowd.

“If people are pushing forwards, they can’t see what’s in front of them. And once you’ve fallen down, it’s very difficult to get up again, unless people are helping you. And if people have bent over to help you, then they can be pushed over very easily as well.”

So it’s up to staff to pinpoint problems and alert the performer, who can stop the show and calm the situation.

In this incident, it was the audience who alerted security and were

“asking for things to change”, says Ancliffe.

“So what was the situational awareness? What was the decision making? There may be other factors involved, but those will probably be the things where the disaster happened.”

ASTROWORLD / LIVE NATION
Image caption,
Set times for the festival show that Scott was due to perform without competition

Many experts have also proposed Scott’s resolution to play on a separate stage with no other acts scheduled at the same time could have aggravated the situation.

That too goes against a common practice in crowd management, known as “spreading the field”, where organizers organize a number of competing headliners or stagger stage times to control the flow of fans.

But Scott’s show came 45 minutes after SZA had ended the day’s final set on Astroworld’s second stage. Fans who had been meeting near the barriers of his $5m “Utopia Mountain” arena since lunchtime were unexpectedly met with an inflow of revellers, hyped up by a massive countdown clock heralding the star’s arrival.

“The crux of the problem likely happened as the clock got close to zero,” one unnamed source disclosed to Variety magazine.

A teenage fan declared she got into troubles almost instantly.

“Once Travis Scott came on, I told myself this is the moment I’ve been preparing for, I just need to breathe,”

Diana Amira told NBC news.

“But… my ribcage was so squished that I couldn’t expand my lungs to catch a breath.”

“He died saving his fiancee” – Basil Baig’s brother died at the festival

“He died saving his fiancee” – Basil Baig’s brother died at the festival

‘Red card’ for emergencies

Thankfully, crowd-related deaths at music events are comparatively few and far between.
Eric Stuart tells BBC Radio 5 Live,

“The first thing to say is that if you have an experienced crowd team on site, it won’t reach that stage,”

“If the worst comes to worst, there’s a small group of people who have what we call the ‘red card’, and it is exactly a message to the stage manager that we need to cut the music, we need to stop.

“And then we need to engage the artist for him or her to speak to the crowd. Ideally, we don’t want a guy or girl in the high-vis jacket or the police coming on stage and talking to the crowd. The artist is the best person to do that.”

That appears to have occured during Friday’s concert. The question for inspectors will be why the music continued after the earlier call for help.

Scott said in his video statement, he was

“working closely with everyone to get to the bottom of this” and recounted himself as “honestly just devastated”.

“I’m honestly just devastated” – Travis Scott posted this video on Instagram

Will lessons be learned?

Vice president and lead counsel for the Event Safety Alliance, Steve Adelman, urged against apportioning blame at this stage.

“There is the instinct to rush to judgment before we know what actually happened,” he declared to Rolling Stone magazine.

Ancliffe hopes a probe will urge promoters to “tighten up their procedures or [concert] designs”.

Still, Prof Still adds: “If you look at any other safety-related industry – aviation, for example – if there’s a near miss or a close call there’s an investigation by experts, and new procedures are put into place to prevent that happening again.

“Unfortunately, in the events industry, it comes down to litigation and it’s generally settled out of court. I know, because I’m an expert witness in a number of international cases.

“The court documents get sealed, the information never gets fed back into the industry and so there’s no learning, there’s no improvement.”

More on this story

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