Why Again? How to Finally Prevent the Future Death of Young People at Events

Add titleWhy Again? How to Finally Prevent the Future Death of Young People at Events



This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is houston-stampede-1024x683.jpg
Another Armageddon:
Death and Destruction at the Astroworld Festival 2021

Professor Joe Goldblatt

young people are dead this morning and hundreds more have been severely injured during a music festival in Houston, Texas. As a scholar and former producer in the field of planned events I am concerned that once again greed and weak legistlation has led to this preventable disaster.

There is a long distinguished history of scholarship in the field of crowd control at live events. As early as 66 AD there is recorded history of the death of 10,000 Jews during a stampede by pilgrims during Passover when the emperor Flavius Josephus made rude remarks and gestures. In more recent history, in 1979 a concert by The Who at Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinatti, Ohio led to a crowd crush and the death of 11 people. Closer to home, the Ibrox and Hillsborough disasters in 1971 and 1989 caused hundreds of injuries and and in the latter case, nearly 100 deaths.

I have some personal experience with death as a result of crowd crushes. In 2003 I was the Dean of a University in Providence, Rhode Island when I read in the newspaper of the overnight death of 100 young people who perished during The Station Nightclub Fire. Most of these young people died at the front door of the venue as they tried to exit and were stampeded by the rest of the guests.

The Governor of Rhode Island appointed me to chair a committee to investigate how these tragedies could be avoided in the future. My committee recommended that all future events must incorporate better exit signs (including posting those at floor level so that if the venue filled with smoke and people were forced to crawl they could still see the signs and find the exits) and an audio announcement notifying the guests of the location of the fire exits be made prior to the start of each event.

Therefore, when I witnessed the televised news clips of the deaths of eight young people between the ages of 18 and 27 in Houston, I become angry and despondent. Since the beginning of the 2001 there have been over 50 major catastrophes resulting in thousands of deaths caused by crowd crushing at events throughout the world. Surely by now we should have learned how to prevent these avoidable disasters?

I believe that both local government who have the statutory responsibility to provide public safety and the commercial event organisers are complicit in the errors and omissions that have led to these this disasters. Local government must enact more stringent legislation that requires increased advance scrutiny of event planning procedures and stronger penalties including major fines and long term imprisionment for unscrupulous organisers.

The event organisers have the legal duty to provide a safe and secure experience for their guests. Many of these guests at music festivals are often not fully in command of their senses due to alcohol, drugs or simply the euphoria of the event itself. Therefore, detailed advance crowd control planning and adequate onsight staffing is even more important than at other large crowd events.

I cannot understand how after the tragedy in 1979 that led to the dramatically reduced use and often banning of festival seating how I could witness thousands of young people rushing toward a stage and being crushed by thousands more who followed them. The scene from the concert reminded me of John Martin’s 1841 painting of Hell entitled Pandemonium . He based his painting on John Milton’s masterwork Paradise Lost. In Martin’s dooms day painting an armoured Satan raises his arms as he calls unseen rebel angels to action.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pandemonium.png
Pandemonimum (1841) by John Martin

I believe it is now time to call our better angels to action to finally prevent these avaoidable catastrophes in the future. I recommend the following changes be implemented as soon as possible to protect and preserve human life.

First, we must ban all future festival seating. Festival seating allows guests to stand in an open area, often scrambling to get as close to the stage as possible.

Secondly, we must increase the stewarding requirements and number of highly trained personnel for each future event.

Thirdly, we must improve the use of signs and audio announcements at events to promote better crowd control.

Fourth, we must only allow ingress and egress to and from the venue in carefully staged groups of smaller and more manageable number of guests.

Fifth and finally, we must enact a zero tolerance policy for event organisers who fail to produce and execute a crowd control written plan that meets or exceeds the standard of care that is their duty within the jurisdiction where there event is being conducted.

These catastrophes are preventable. It is immoral and illegal to continue to tolerate this egregious behaviour. Therefore, I am calling for the events management industry and local government leaders to immediately work more closely together and call upon their better angels in preventing this horrific Armageddon from returning again.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University. He has produced hundreds of events in his career and has served as an expert witness and consultant for dozens of events where tragedy occurred due to errors and omissions in the planning and permitting process. To learn more about his views about live events visit www.joegoldblatt.scot

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Another Armageddon:
Death and Destruction at the Astroworld Festival 2021

Professor Joe Goldblatt

Eight young people are dead this morning and hundreds more have been severely injured during a music festival in Houston, Texas. As a scholar and former producer in the field of planned events I am concerned that once again greed and weak legistlation has led to this preventable disaster.

There is a long distinguished history of scholarship in the field of crowd control at live events. As early as 66 AD there is recorded history of the death of 10,000 Jews during a stampede by pilgrims during Passover when the emperor Flavius Josephus made rude remarks and gestures. In more recent history, in 1979 a concert by The Who at Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinatti, Ohio led to a crowd crush and the death of 11 people. Closer to home, the Ibrox and Hillsborough disasters in 1971 and 1989 caused hundreds of injuries and and in the latter case, nearly 100 deaths.

I have some personal experience with death as a result of crowd crushes. In 2003 I was the Dean of a University in Providence, Rhode Island when I read in the newspaper of the overnight death of 100 young people who perished during The Station Nightclub Fire. Most of these young people died at the front door of the venue as they tried to exit and were stampeded by the rest of the guests.

The Governor of Rhode Island appointed me to chair a committee to investigate how these tragedies could be avoided in the future. My committee recommended that all future events must incorporate better exit signs (including posting those at floor level so that if the venue filled with smoke and people were forced to crawl they could still see the signs and find the exits) and an audio announcement notifying the guests of the location of the fire exits be made prior to the start of each event.

Therefore, when I witnessed the televised news clips of the deaths of eight young people between the ages of 18 and 27 in Houston, I become angry and despondent. Since the beginning of the 2001 there have been over 50 major catastrophes resulting in thousands of deaths caused by crowd crushing at events throughout the world. Surely by now we should have learned how to prevent these avoidable disasters?

I believe that both local government who have the statutory responsibility to provide public safety and the commercial event organisers are complicit in the errors and omissions that have led to these this disasters. Local government must enact more stringent legislation that requires increased advance scrutiny of event planning procedures and stronger penalties including major fines and long term imprisionment for unscrupulous organisers.

The event organisers have the legal duty to provide a safe and secure experience for their guests. Many of these guests at music festivals are often not fully in command of their senses due to alcohol, drugs or simply the euphoria of the event itself. Therefore, detailed advance crowd control planning and adequate onsight staffing is even more important than at other large crowd events.

I cannot understand how after the tragedy in 1979 that led to the dramatically reduced use and often banning of festival seating how I could witness thousands of young people rushing toward a stage and being crushed by thousands more who followed them. The scene from the concert reminded me of John Martin’s 1841 painting of Hell entitled Pandemonium . He based his painting on John Milton’s masterwork Paradise Lost. In Martin’s dooms day painting an armoured Satan raises his arms as he calls unseen rebel angels to action.

Pandemonimum (1841) by John Martin

I believe it is now time to call our better angels to action to finally prevent these avaoidable catastrophes in the future. I recommend the following changes be implemented as soon as possible to protect and preserve human life.

First, we must ban all future festival seating. Festival seating allows guests to stand in an open area, often scrambling to get as close to the stage as possible.

Secondly, we must increase the stewarding requirements and number of highly trained personnel for each future event.

Thirdly, we must improve the use of signs and audio announcements at events to promote better crowd control.

Fourth, we must only allow ingress and egress to and from the venue in carefully staged groups of smaller and more manageable number of guests.

Fifth and finally, we must enact a zero tolerance policy for event organisers who fail to produce and execute a crowd control written plan that meets or exceeds the standard of care that is their duty within the jurisdiction where there event is being conducted.

These catastrophes are preventable. It is immoral and illegal to continue to tolerate this egregious behaviour. Therefore, I am calling for the events management industry and local government leaders to immediately work more closely together and call upon their better angels in preventing this horrific Armageddon from returning again.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University. He has produced hundreds of events in his career and has served as an expert witness and consultant for dozens of events where tragedy occurred due to errors and omissions in the planning and permitting process. To learn more about his views about live events visit www.joegoldblatt.scot

2 thoughts on “Why Again? How to Finally Prevent the Future Death of Young People at Events

  • November 7, 2021 at 9:05 pm
    Permalink

    Should it be compulsory for events with such crowd dynamics to carry out scenario modelling for safety planning?

    A tragic loss of life! It saddens me, it angers me, and it hurts! Could this have been avoided? This observation is as a seasoned event producer with a passion for safety. I am not a crowd control expert; I would state I am a keen student at this juncture looking to progress his understanding. I ask that you take my observations within that context.

    Nearly a day has passed, my first impression of studying the aerial footage from TV considers some key issues for discussion. Many of my colleagues on here are far more qualified than I am and will in no doubt be making some comments over the next few days as more data comes to hand. I have no allegiances to align here; I comment as a concerned outsider that this is turning into the Travis Scott Travesty, with some poorly considered comments coming from officials and some uninformed sources.

    Risk assessing the crowd type is always a priority at multi-agency meetings; often it is the starting point for planning and layout considerations. This market segment is known to be young, passionate, physical, exuberant and excitable. The authorities had data from 2019 to reflect upon with this particular artist. Was there any crowd modelling carried out? If relief channels had been established to release pressure on command on the parameter fence closest to the stage, the layout would have been different, as would the crowd control staffing requirements and the associated briefings.

    The television footage shows that stage left’s mojo barrier stops around approximately 150 feet towards the parameter fence. The footage shows a predominance of the crowd weighted to stage left. To my mind, the pressure came from this side attributed to that large opening between the standard first position mojo barrier and parameter fence. Where it ends seems to cause the bottleneck pressure via the created momentum for the initial surge and any reactive surges that followed. Reactive surges in some cases be more potent than the first. There does not seem to be any flanked staggered barrier placement that would elevate any pressure.

    With this type of audience, dynamic crowd spotters would be in place whose job is to isolate dynamic crowd flow changes and vulnerable persons, to report immediately to a team or event control to make a call for the appropriate reaction. Event control informs stage manager of steps and instantly liaises with the artist as one of the leading communicators to the audience to take whatever steps are necessary to alleviate pressure and avoid injury.

    The timings of what led up to such an incident will be central to the investigation. Communication channels and the DMU should be detailed within the event safety plan. With any event of such a size, it would be standard protocol that all calls on comms are logged or recorded, acting as a black box solution for evaluation.

    One of the attendees commented on the crowd’s reaction as throbbing and pulsating. We have witnessed these phenomena at past events. You witness small movements that inform a pattern that increases, creating a wave-like momentum through body force. The accumulated power of such a wave becomes formidable if valves are not applied to release the pressure. I question if such valves were in place.

    No doubt, additional footage will be interrogated to inform a more holistic view of the incident where other 3D factors are potentially isolated. I hope that we don’t again witness money at play and a slow legal process stifling the required investigation to a point where accountability disappears. The victims and families deserve to be respected with answers.

    Reply
  • November 12, 2021 at 8:53 am
    Permalink

    Aye Dave, this must be compulsive. However, most crowd control problems are the result of a toxic cocktail of poor planning and insufficient resources during the event. Most of this is the cause of greed by the organizers who wish to cut corners in order to maximise profits. Therefore, local government intervention is needed or permits should not be issued.

    Reply

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