Fatal crowd surge at Houston concert

The crowd surged towards the stage for a Travis Scott performance at the Astroworld festival. Article.

It seems like trouble started hours earlier when some of the crowd rushed the entry gates. Article.

My first instinct was to say people have forgotten during Covid how to deal with crowds, but Lollapalooza had a good turnout and no such troubles. My second instinct was to attribute it to the broader understaffing problem, as crowds must be actively and carefully controlled. I should wait for more information and not just follow my instincts.

I was reminded of the tragedy with the Who in 1979 in Cincinnati.

That already has a link to this event.

I’ve never liked crowds…in a group IQ often plummets.

General admission tickets that corral thousands of people crammed together like cattle sounds like so much fun!

Never again after an Eagles concert in a baseball stadium where me and my friends were nearly crushed in the outfield. She started to panic nearly passed out and that was when we tried to leave.

I’ll note that while the wikipedia article as you’ve linked it reads “Astroworld Festival stampede”, the page has since been renamed (more aptly, I suspect) to “Astroworld Festival crowd crush”. There’s a difference (between a stampede and a crush), and it undercuts somewhat the notion that this has something to do with the IQ of crowds. And I say “somewhat” because I think the implication that even stampeding people must be acting stupidly is problematic.

More to the point, a crowd crush may occur as those “causing” it have no clue–and indeed no reason to know–that there is actually anything wrong. More likely this has to do with some deficiency in the design or oversight of the venue.

ETA: Another example (and one where early media coverage portrayed it as due to fans getting out of control as opposed to, what it actually turned out to be, a poorly arranged/managed venue):

IIRC, stampedes happen because of panic, and result in fewer fatalities, on average (broken bones and similar sorts of trauma are common, but fatal trauma is much rarer); crowd crushes happen because of poor design and poor crowd management, and fatalities are much more likely. Both are tragedies, but in my understanding the latter are much worse and much more preventable.

Is the venue (part of Harris County) or the promoter responsible for security?

It sounds like the performer has a history of terrible judgment/criminal misconduct involving the crowds at his live shows, but it also sounds like he “paused” the show several times to try to get help for people in distress. There’s obviously a problem in terms of who was in charge of safety and crowd management that something more wasn’t done as the show went on, and that it wasn’t set up properly in the first place.

From the Washington Post article below:

Any time you have a crowd - and it doesn’t have to be a huge one - you have a potential for a crowd disaster like a crowd crush. The wonder is that it doesn’t happen more often. Or maybe that there have been safety improvements over the years, but since people are involved prevention will never be perfect.

I’m not familiar with this performer, but it sounds like he’s very popular with kids, and many of the victims were minors and were there with their parents.

Earlier today, I saw an interview on CNN with a concertgoer who was also an ICU nurse, and she was horrified at how inadequate the staffing and supplies were for a crowd this big, something that of course only became apparent after disaster struck.

I was just going into high school when that Who concert happened, and for about a decade afterwards, my parents were very nervous about my sibs and I going to rock concerts, although we always did come home in one piece. Ca. 1990, with 3 kids in college, my dad got a moonlighting job doing security at a local civic auditorium, and after working a number of events, he told our mom, “I can’t believe I had a problem with the kids going to rock concerts; I sure am glad they weren’t country music fans!” Attendees of the latter, at least at the time and that venue, were much more likely to come in drunk and start fights, among other things.

p.s. I thought about this kind of thing a few weeks ago, when my niece attended the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, a big electronic-music festival I’d never previously heard of. Haven’t spoken to her, but I’m sure she had a great time.

Man, if you leave 2020 out of the picture, because people who perform for an audience were shut down that year, there are thousands and thousands of big live shows all over the planet every year that feature exactly zero deaths.
Any promoter should be able to pull off an event where no one dies. (Unless some random person happens to have a heart attack, or something.)
Here’s how the Grateful Dead, no stranger o large crowds, handled a surge type situation:
(The video goes right into Box Of Rain, I don’t know how to stop that. The band’s response to the situation is right at the beginning.)

When I wrote that I was thinking of crowds in general. I remember going to frat parties in college where large numbers of people are forever dumping beers on each other. Or traffic jams that get worse and worse. I think it would be a real nightmare to have to evacuate from a jet…people getting hysterical, not following directions, etc.

As far as design goes, I would think after the Who in Cincinnati and other disasters, science and legislation would be all over it…I guess not.

In a crowd crush the smaller a person is the more likely they are to be hurt or killed. In a mixed crowd the majority of victims will be women or, if there are a lot them, children. Not that big men can’t also be hurt or killed, too, at a certain point there’s just nothing a person can do.

That worked because 1) someone could look over the entire crowd and 2) was paying attention and 3) the crowd cooperated.

Usually, in these situations, the people in the back have no way to know what’s happening in the front. The back keeps moving forward at a gentle pace, no one has to be actually shoving, but the cumulative force of the entire crowd becomes deadly at the front. The back keeps moving, though, because there is nothing to tell them there is a problem (until too late).

In theory… but like I said, you have people involved. There is a lot that can be done to reduce the risks but anytime you have a big crowd milling around there is a risk. Which is why crowd control is so important.

You can make all the rules you want. They don’t do any good unless they’re enforced.

I’ll also point out that the Who crush in Cincinnati involved going through a choke point. (So did the E2 Nightclub crush in Chicago and The Station fire in Rhode lsland, which contributed to the death toll from the fire). That involves a slightly different dynamic when you have a large crowd that rolls over the people at the front, without a choke point.

Exactly. In Hillsborough, those in charge failed to keep count of people entering to access certain sections, and they overfilled. People entering the tunnel in a leisurely way had no idea that they were causing deaths at the fences far beyond.

I have a hard time accepting this as true. A “gentle pace” - no matter the size of the crowd - should not crush anyone.

Maybe not a stampede, but it’s safe to assume there was leaning, pushing, and surging going on.


Ehh, the people at the back can be pretty much forming a barrier, not really adding pressure, at least not that would seem like any kind of meaningful force, they’re just maintaining the pressure. The pushing tends to start somewhere in the middle, because people are starting to get uncomfortable and want a bit more space to breathe, they can’t get backwards, and besides, everyone’s trying to get forward, right?

I had to watch quite a few training videos on this sort of thing having been a UK football steward. No-one in the crush is usually deliberately pushing- nothing more than trying to squeeze in to gaps- until they are feeling crushed.

It’s a bit like that thing where someone brakes a little on a busy road with the traffic flow juuust wrong, and the tiny little slowdown gets exaggerated by every car by an imperceptible amount until you have a 2 mile tailback; no-one’s trying to do anything other than give themselves space and get where they’re trying to go.

“Paul Wertheimer, who founded the Crowd Management Strategies consulting firm and has campaigned for safer concert environments for decades, called what happened at the festival a crowd crush – a highly preventable tragedy, he said, as old as rock ‘n’ roll.”

“Standing room environments – often called festival seating – are the most dangerous and deadly crowd configuration at live entertainment events,” he said."

“It forces people in a crowd to compete against each other for the best location or best area to be. And in crowd safety, that’s the last thing you want to occur. You want people working together.”

There had already been at least one person hurt when there was a rush toward VIP entrances.

So, good planning and concert design along with adequate emergency/medical staffing should minimize the risk of really bad outcomes when people act like…herd animals.

I saw a crush start to happen on a train platform in Japan once. It was after an end of the year party on a Friday night and many people were drunk and trying to catch the last trains home.

The trains were packed but the people behind couldn’t see that and were trying to force their way forward. I remember one guy yelling at his girlfriend to stay on her feet, if she fell down it would be all over.

There was a crowd crush at a fireworks festival in Japan many years ago. Tragically one father stopped to help people and his own kids were trampled and died.

I was with you up to there. Truly, “when people act like people” should suffice to describe what happened here. No need to use language that might tend to dehumanize them. I am sensitive to that because it will be the same tactic used by venue owners, concert promoters, management, and (if the preceding groups lobby successfully) ultimately lawmakers in trying to explain away why this was the fault of those in the crowd, rather than those who put that crowd in such a venue under such conditions.

We are a social species. I don’t know about herd animals, but definitely social. We like to get out and do things in groups. People seeking to make money off our proclivity to do such things should be expected to exercise reasonable care to ensure that their paying customers are kept safe. “This was such a terrible tragedy, that could have been prevented if only the people didn’t behave like animals…” is precisely the narrative we should seek to undermine.

Well, it IS true. By gently adding one more body at one end, you are forcing everyone to have just a little less space — and for those at the barrier, a little less space—>can breath out, but can’t breathe back in—>asphyxiation.

There was an excellent long article about the research on this a few years ago — was it The New Yorker? I’ll look it up.

(Note that now reports indicate this ISN’T what happened in Houston last night — that WAS a dynamic surge.)

Reading about this incident immediately made me think of an event I attended at the Koka Booth Amphitheater in Cary, NC. (I’ve actually posted about this experience a couple times here, but I’m too lazy to find the threads and post a link.)

At Koka Booth, the surge occurred in the area directly in front of the stage, which was NOT a standing area but assigned seating in folding chairs at premium pricing. When the headline act (Heart) hit the stage, everyone from the cheaper sections just surged up the aisles, filling the aisles and the area in front of the stage, pushing aside chairs, and basically being total jerks. The ushers and management did not make a single effort to control the crowd or restore order. I don’t believe that there were any significant injuries, but it certainly didn’t help to have hundred of folding chairs mixed into the mob. The venue management was extremely fortunate, especially considering their lack or response or concern.