Astroworld Case Study Pt 1
At the time of publication at least 10 people have been killed and over 300 people injured at the 2021 Astroworld Festival held in the USA. There has been lots of speculation and rumours about this event and what really happened.
We want to dive into the event management process to bring about the details and give an overview based on information reported by the various news outlets and anecdotal evidence and interviews from attendees who survived this tragedy. This is not a salacious piece based on this tragedy, we hope it brings forward some lessons to cascade and disseminate across the live event industry.
In this case study we will be using reliable sources and documents that have been released. Please note, this case study is based on the information we have at the time of publishing this case study and new information will come to light that may shed more evidence on the situation already communicated.
The official event document for this case study refers to version 0.1. This is an early version of the event operations plan and it is likely that many details of this would have been changed/updated. However, this document does give us a perspective of what should have happened if a ‘Major Incident’ presented itself to the event management team in Event Control.
What is considered a Major Incident within the scope of event management, The Health and Safety Executive, an independent regulator within the UK, gives a clear definition in their information to event organisers.
“As an event organiser, you have a duty to plan, manage and monitor your event to make sure that workers and the visiting public are not exposed to health and safety risks. You need to take account of any existing major accident hazards when choosing the location for an event, assess the suitability of the site, and plan for major incidents.”
We therefore conclude, a major incident is a potential source of danger which, in the event of an incident, could cause severe harm to a large number of people.
Operational Procedures of an event
For those who may not have an understanding of the operational procedure and protocol to deliver a live outdoor music festival, it is necessary to give clarification and meaning to some general terms used in this newsletter. Operational Plan, is the document used by the above line management team for the festival, allowing them to manage every aspect of the event. This document is considered as the standard working protocol across the industry and in some countries, it is a legal requirement to write this document as part of the licensing agreement to host an outdoor live music event. In the main, the document known as the Operational Plan is written from a perspective of safety and control for all working at or attending the event. It should have clear policies and procedures to follow if an issue presents itself.
The term known as ‘Event Control’ is an area / location on the outdoor event site and used to monitor, communicate and manage all aspects of the event. It is not a requirement for all outdoor events to have Event Control on the event site, it is considered as best practice across the industry. Within event control one may find a bank of CCTV monitoring potential areas that may be problematic during the event. Several key individuals may also be in Event Control, the person of persons who hold the event license, the event manager, head of security, a representative or head of police operation for the event and head of the fire service and first aid respondent. All those individuals will have a good understanding of their service and operatives' and how it is integrated within the management of the event. Those individuals should have received the latest version of the Event Operation Plan, as they are known as the above line management team.
Radio communication will come into event control to the event manager, he or she may log those communication messages or they could be digitally recorded to give an accurate timeline of what information was known, who responded and what action was taken. It is imperative to have control and command of the live event and clear line of communication to the event manager from key operatives across the event site. Throughout the industry, this is considered as best working practice.
Astroworld is a festival by Travis Scott and concert promoters Live Nation. The festival launched in 2018 and was hosted in Houston, Texas the hometown of Travis Scott. The festival location is at NRG Park which is close to the former site of Six Flags AstroWorld. It is noted that this venue has a capacity of 200,000.
The festival has two stages they are named “Thrills” and “Chills” with the “Chills” being the larger of the two stages. Astroworld had been highly anticipated for the better part of the year as it had been cancelled in 2020 due the COVID-19 Pandemic. The 2019 festival had an increase in capacity and in 2021 it was made into a 2 day festival with a 50,000 capacity for each day. The 2021 festival sold out in record time.
Looking at previous Travis Scott concerts you can note that his concerts have a relatively young demographic with crowd movement as would be expected from young people. In November 2019, three people were trampled and hospitalized as thousands rushed to get into the festival. The victims were taken to the hospital with leg injuries, and the event continued as planned.
In 2017 Travis Scott was arrested and accused of inviting fans to bypass security and rush the stage at a show at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers in Arkansas.
While in 2015, he pleaded guilty to reckless conduct charges following a 2015 incident at the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago. His set only lasted five minutes before being cut short and police intervening. Footage from the show highlights Scott saying: "Middle finger up to security right now." Before leading the crowd in a chant of "We want rage."
In Astroworlds 2021 event operation plan it is noted that 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.”
From this, one is able to draw out possible crowd behaviour and put in place some crowd management protocols to mitigate crowd disorder. With this historical evidence, it is also necessary to have some security operatives who are trained in crowd management and control. Supported by stewards in key locations who are experienced when it comes to dealing with the crowd management issues that may occur on the site. Scenario planning prior to the event through a process known as a Safety Advisory Group (SAG) is also considered as best practice. This may or may not have taken place for this live music event, if it did, historical information tempered with future scenarios would have given the event management team an insight and understanding of the potential issues that may arise at the 2021 outdoor live music event.
The start of the festival
It is witnessed that over 1,000 fans were lining up to get into the festival from 3am Friday morning and by 10am fans rushed forward to get into the festival site.
You may have also seen videos of crowds rushing the gates to get into the festival. It is reported that this was the VIP entrance of the event, It has not been confirmed if this crowd that rushed the gates had purchased tickets or not but likely they had not.
Two weeks prior to Astroworld, another Houston concert was canceled after fans pushed into a Playboi Carti show being held within the same NRG Park complex.
Another video showed the crowds rushing to the merchandise stands without a regard to the queuing system. Even at this early stage concert goer said “We are pressed together. You felt like you couldn’t breathe” and this was just the queue to the merchandise stand.
This indicates the crowd's characteristics and the management needed for this crowd at a very early stage of the event. It is also possible for the event to be over capacity due to the rushed gates. Even though it is stated that the venue could hold 200,000 people the amount of event staff that would have been on site would have only been enough for 50,000 which was Astroworlds capacity.
As mentioned before the event had two stages, the bigger stage so called “Chills’ was constructed specifically for Travis Scott and his vision. The stage had pyro, lasers, risers and a virtual tunnel. The stage was big enough to be visible from virtually any area of the festival ground.
Pre headline incidents
It is common practise to overlap performances to allow crowds to slowly disperse over to the next stage and to not be the only entertainment option at least at the start of the performance. However this was not the case for this festival.
The artist SZA performed on the smaller ‘Thrills’ stage which ended at 8pm and Travis Scott was scheduled to perform at 8:45pm on the “Chills” stage. As indicated on the event promotional material.
Having a 45 minute wait before a headliner is not common. This could be one of the key factors into this tragedy. Another factor that would have added to the anticipation of the Travis Scott performance was a giant countdown beginning at 8:30pm and counting down to 9pm. This would have added to crowds rushing to see the performance.
Let's first take a closer look at the incidents that occurred as SZA’s performance ended at 8pm.
Sami Anjum is a medical technician and a clinical researcher who was working at the event as a field medic and he recalls his experience.
Sami started his shift at 12pm and a few hours after at around 3:30pm, he started seeing a large number of patients enter the medical tent. This is nothing out of the ordinary for the festival
“A 22-page medical plan prepared by ParaDocs called for a main medical tent with two emergency room physicians, six registered nurses, two paramedics and nine emergency medical technicians, along with people to track and triage patients. There were 30 cots, 12 tables and two wheelchairs in the main tent; other smaller medical tents were positioned around the event.” It is also to be noted that Outside the venue, the Houston Fire Department had positioned about 20 ambulances in anticipation that they might be needed.
It is noted that By 8:15pm, the medical staff on hand said they were unable to document patients because there were so many who needed help. “Many patients were last seen conscious more than 20 minutes prior to receiving any medical attention,” Mr. Anjum said. They began triage.
An official with ParaDocs disputed that the event was understaffed or that serious medical problems got out of hand before 8pm.
From here almost 45 minutes before Travis Scott's performance was due to start the medics were already over capacity, if the accounts used in this case studies are correct. The Event Operation Plan (EOP) states:
Multiple Casualty Incidents (MCI)
Should the situation occur that on-site services become overwhelmed and adequate/appropriate patient care becomes jeopardized, the EMS Director will notify Event Control and advise activation of the MCI Plan.
Incident Command will be established and will notify the local jurisdiction to advise of the nature and scope of the incident, the approximate number of casualties, best access into the area, possible staging area for incoming ambulances and any possible hazards, including if decontamination of patients may be needed.
Incident Command will establish communications and triage stations, which will be located according to the local jurisdiction MCI protocol.
The unified command will notify all applicable hospitals of the need to prepare for incoming patients.
On-site EMS personnel utilizing the START (Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment) system will initiate triage. Attempts will be made to keep the triage area geographically confined in order to remain efficient. Patients will be prioritized after three parameters have been evaluated: level of consciousness, respiratory status and perfusion status. If a deficit is found, the patient will be deemed “High Priority” requiring immediate transport. If all three conditions are within normal limits, the patient is “Low Priority” and is ok to have delayed transport. Patients who have obvious fatal injuries will be considered dead and will be assigned no transport status.
Transport officers will report to the ambulance staging area and assign patients to incoming vehicles.
EMERGENCY INCIDENT MANAGEMENT
The following may occur concurrently with assistance from event personnel at the direction of the Emergency Manager. The particular nature of the incident will alter the order or need of any of the following listed actions.
Keep all unnecessary people away from the incident area.
Activate internal notification systems or communication systems.
Ensure that any injured persons are given appropriate medical care and/or transport to the hospital.
Coordinate on-site evacuations, if required.
If a hazardous material has been released, refer to the Hazardous Material Release section
above for appropriate response procedures.
Contact appropriate outside response agencies, as needed.
Immediately notify Event Control and the Security AOD of any incident involving the following:
Hospitalization of 3 or more persons from the same incident
The event operation plan does not include/state any show stop procedures if any of these incidents were to occur. It only mentions evacuation.
From the written statements published on several news outlets, the medical tent was overwhelmed with the large number of patients who required medical assistance.
With that information, notification should have been communicated to event control as to the medical tent were not able to deal with any more patients and the Multiple Casualty Incident would have taken precedence. According to the festival operation manual an emergency incident management protocol should have been followed. However, there is no absolute certainty if those protocols were put in place as a direct result of the multiple casualties incidents.
It is also to be noted if an Multi Casualty Incident was called and an evacuation was needed this would first be determined by the Festival DIrector after consultation with the Security Director, Event Emergency Manager, and Emergency Response Team (ERT).
“Festival Director after consultation with the Security Director, the Event Emergency Manager, and Emergency Response Team (ERT). Once the determination to evacuate has been made, the Event Emergency Manager assumes command and control of the evacuation procedures.”
Prior to Travis Scott performance on stage It is unclear how many incidents were reported and if consultations on how serious the issues were at the time. This raises the question. Should the festival have been stopped long before Travis Scott even performed?
As the investigation continues as possible lawsuit proceedings over the fullness of time one will know exactly what took place onsite.
This concludes the first part of this case study. In our next part we will be looking deeper into Travis Scotts performance and potential lawsuit proceedings.
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At the time of this publication new information could become available that may assist in our understanding of the incidents at the Astroworld festival 2021. Therefore, final judgement on this incident is premature until all relevant information has been made available. Upon the release of that information we shall do our duty as a learning provider to disseminate this information so it may assist our understanding of the management and control at festivals and events.
We are just raising questions at this early stage of the investigation and not apportioning blame to any individual or organisation.
Date of writing 9th November 2022