What went wrong at the Astroworld Festival and how panic played a role in the crowd surge

A crowd surge last Friday at the Astroworld Festival in Houston Texas left eight people dead and many others injured. Since the incident, there has been a growing number of questions and concerns about the security measures that were in place. Lisa Desjardins looks at some of those concerns with Steve Allen, a lead safety consultant at Crowd Safety.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Eight people are dead and many others were injured on Friday in Houston after the Astroworld Festival crowd surge at a concert with rapper Travis Scott.

    Tonight, there are more questions than answers about the security measures in place.

    Lisa Desjardins looks at some of those concerns.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Judy, concertgoers began panicking soon after Travis Scott started singing, and some members of the crowd rushed to the stage.

    Here's how one concertgoer described it:

  • KEVIN PEREZ, CONCERT EYEWITNESS:

    And then I just heard from other people like, "I can't breathe," just people screaming at each other like, "I can't breathe," people yelling their friends' names because they were separated, they got lost. And they were just — they had nowhere to go.

    It was just hard to get out. That was the worst part of it.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    The deaths have prompted a series of questions about whether Travis Scott should have stopped the concert completely, what the role of organizers was, and whether there was adequate preparations made.

    At least 35 people have sued already.

    Steve Allen is a lead safety consultant at CrowdSafety.org who has provided security for artists like Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Eminem. And he joins me now from Southampton, England.

    Steve, we have seen tragedies at concerts before, sadly. But this one seemed rare to me, in that this was a fatal crowd crush at an ongoing concert, which continued. Even as that was happening, how rare or unusual does that seem to you? And what do you take away from this?

  • STEVE ALLEN, LEAD CROWD SAFETY CONSULTANT, CROWD SAFETY:

    Very rare. It shouldn't be happening. If a crowd are in distress, then there should be a procedure in place to immediately stop that show temporarily.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    There are a lot of questions about Travis Scott. He stopped the show four different times, but then picked it back up again.

    At one, he asked people, are they OK? Reportedly saw some people raise hands indicating they were. But we know there was distress at that moment, even as the concert continued.

    Can you talk about, how do you prevent concerts from going too far? How do you make sure a performer knows that the concert needs to stop? And what kind of point people need to be in place from the — from everybody on down?

  • STEVE ALLEN:

    So, at the best laid plans can be in place, but they often fail at the first time there's a major incident occurring.

    So, for us to have that dynamic situation in situ, you should have a show stop team. And that is a competent team of experts, if you like, that know exact what they're doing and can identify a crowd in distress.

    And that isn't your uncle putting on a security shirt and saying, stand up there and keep an eye on the crowd. This is people that you are trusting to identify a life-threatening situation. They're involved in it. They have noise-canceling headsets, in communication with someone on stage, part of the show stop team who's adjacent to the artist's representative, who's been fully briefed in advance and on the day of show safety briefing.

    And there's briefs to their artists who's going to cooperate and understand their role and responsibility, along with the lighting designer and the front of house sound engineer.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    When a lot of us hear about something like this, we imagine if we were there. We imagine if our loved ones were there. And you can almost feel yourself that sense of panic.

    Can you talk about the role of panic in these situations? How real is that? How much of a factor is that?

  • STEVE ALLEN:

    A hundred percent real.

    And, for years, I had academics telling me that panic was just a five-letter word that doesn't actually exist in crowds. And I'm someone that's worked with crowds for 30 years. And I can assure you that, if you can't breathe, you will panic. I have seen men that some 350 pounds, 6'6" in the middle of a crowd with their arms locked by their side and being elevated off the floor with sheer fear in their face.

    So, panic does exist. And you hear — you can feel a crowd in distress. You can see if a crowd is in distress or if it's just euphoria. The untrained eye looking at a mosh pit will panic and think there's a major problem. There's not. This is what they do.

    It's about identifying when that crowd is in distress.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Looking at some of the pictures and videos of this event, this was a huge crowd, 50,000 people, and we're not yet out of the pandemic exactly.

    What do you say? Was this a wakeup call to dangers of large events, even as some people are now racing back to them?

  • STEVE ALLEN:

    Look, I think the risk is always there with live events.

    And we were always engaged with the artists that had the energetic crowds, Oasis, for some 15 or 16 years, some of the most energized crowds I had ever seen. But we managed it. Everyone took it serious.

    And I'm not in any way speculating that this event wasn't taken serious. But there is always a risk.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Something went wrong, yes.

  • STEVE ALLEN:

    Something has — well, something has clearly gone wrong, because you have had more than one fatality, but numbers of injured people.

    And look at the ages of those people that have passed away. They had gone to a concert to have a good time and go home safe and talk about that and have memories forever. And, sadly, that's not going to happen.

    What is very clear to me from the reports I'm reading now is that there was a number of people in distress for a prolonged period. And when you see the video footage of fans getting up onto the stage, onto the camera platforms, how that wasn't seen by a show stop team, a management, how that wasn't seen and responded to and what's going on — and from other video footage I have seen, the artist is actually looking around to the wings of the stage, as if he's seeking, is everything OK, as though he's looking at someone.

    And at no point do I see anyone go on stage and speak to Travis and say, look, we have got a problem. There may be video footage that shows that, but it's certainly not something I have seen. And you would certainly expect to see that pretty rapidly, someone going onto the stage and saying, stop the show. We have just got a heads-up there's a major situation here.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    These are all important questions, and we will follow this investigation, as I know you will too.

    Steve Allen, you're a crowd safety expert. Thank you for joining us.

  • STEVE ALLEN:

    Thank you.

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