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Astroworld organizers had plans for a variety of emergencies, but not a 'crowd surge'

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. New details have come to light today about the Houston Astroworld music festival. Eight people died there last Friday night, and several hundred were injured. And an operations document shows promoters never made plans for responding to a crowd surge. The 56-page report lays out details for responding to heat, tornadoes, bomb threats, but it didn't discuss how to handle dangerous crowd behavior like what took place during headliner Travis Scott's concert. NPR's Greg Allen has been going over the plan with an event security consultant and joins us now. Hi, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: All right. So what exactly is in this operations plan?

ALLEN: Well, this operation's plan was obtained by Houston Public Media and provided to NPR. It was prepared by a Texas-based security consultant for the promoter of the concert, Live Nation. There are sections in the operations plan that deal with handling drug overdoses, shootings, even earthquakes, but it doesn't mention the kind of crowd behavior we saw at the Travis Scott concert.

The closest thing is a section that addresses how to handle a civil disturbance or a riot. This is from the report. It says, quote, "in any situation where large groups of people are gathering, there is the potential for a civil disturbance or riot that can present a grave risk to the safety and security of employees and guests. The key to properly dealing with this type of scenario is proper management of the crowd from the minute the doors open" - and that clearly didn't happen in this case.

CHANG: Right. Exactly. And as we mentioned, you've been speaking to a security consultant about the document. What have you learned?

ALLEN: Right. I've been talking to Paul Wertheimer. He's been involved in concert security since the 1979 Who concert in Cincinnati, in which 11 people died. He was part of a task force that later helped develop standards for crowd management at events like this. He called this operations plan woefully deficient.

PAUL WERTHEIMER: It doesn't address dangerous standing room environments. It doesn't address when it - catastrophic situations, crowd crush, crowd collapse, surging, moshing, stage diving. It doesn't discuss anything about that crowd where the disaster occurred.

ALLEN: You know, all of that, Wertheimer says, should have been anticipated, and preparations should have been made to control it.

CHANG: OK, so I take it that both the - that he thinks at least the event's own security consultant and the promoter should have been able to anticipate the rush that led to these deaths.

ALLEN: Right. Yeah, he says that's definitely the case. He said there's a long-established industry standard for dealing with crowds at the front of stages at these kind of events. This isn't new. First, he says, you have to assess whether you can even have a standing room crowd at a concert like this, knowing Travis Scott's history. And then you have to have security personnel on hand to keep a close eye on the crowd density.

WERTHEIMER: They monitor them. They don't let them get out of control. They don't put more people in the space knowing that crowd surfing may occur.

ALLEN: The important thing, Wertheimer says, is that security personnel have to be sure that emergency responders can get into the crowd at any time and that people who are in the crowd can freely get out at all times.

CHANG: All right. Well, Greg, there is discussion now about whether there should be an independent investigation in Houston about all of this. What more have you heard on that front?

ALLEN: Right. Well, Wertheimer says that that's crucial to ensure this doesn't happen again. Right now, he sees most of the attention going to Travis Scott, but he says that others may share the responsibility for this tragedy.

WERTHEIMER: If you're going to investigate the artists, you have to investigate the other parties who planned, managed, profited from and approved this faulty plan.

ALLEN: You know, independent investigations have followed some tragedies like this. You know, we had the nightclub fire in Rhode Island in 2003 in which a hundred people died, of course the '79 Who concert in Cincinnati. But it's not always been the case. Wertheimer says he's found local governments are concerned often about providing fodder for lawsuits and kind of shy away from these kind of independent investigations. And, of course, lawsuits have already been filed in this case.

CHANG: Right. That is NPR's Greg Allen. Thank you, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.