Experts: Crowd safety techniques should have prevented stampede that killed 2 Naperville men

  • Concert venues, like Astroworld Music Festival host NRG Park in Houston, should design barriers and exits to keep crowds in control.

    Concert venues, like Astroworld Music Festival host NRG Park in Houston, should design barriers and exits to keep crowds in control. Jamaal Ellis/Houston Chronicle via AP

  • Concert venues, like Astroworld Music Festival host NRG Park in Houston, should design barriers and exits to keep crowds in control.

    Concert venues, like Astroworld Music Festival host NRG Park in Houston, should design barriers and exits to keep crowds in control. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 11/8/2021 7:32 PM

A deadly crowd surge at a massive outdoor music festival in Houston Friday killed eight people, including two men from Naperville, and injured scores more.

But things like that aren't supposed to happen nowadays, said concert promoters, crowd safety experts and venue operators.

 

"Artist and crowd safety is something that we always talk about as an industry," said Ron Onesti, operator of the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles and Des Plaines Theatre. "So when something like this happens, it really surprises me because I know the scrutiny the industry has been going through for years."

Crowd surges, like the one that happened Friday at the Astroworld music festival, are just one of many dangers security details are trained to handle and venue operators attempt to prevent through various floor designs.

"There are not only regulations on how many exits have to be in place depending on the size of the crowd, but the width of the path to those exits is also determined by crowd size," said Jim Tidwell, a crowd management trainer and former fire marshal in Fort Worth, Texas. "The arrangement of the exits is important because half of the exiting capacity has to be where you came into the facility, because that's just human nature to go out the way you came in. There's a formula for everything."

Tidwell works with venue operators and security outfits to train them on basic venue safety protocols and any updates to the International Code Council's regulations for staging large-scale gatherings. He said venues are designed to prevent crowd surges from happening through the use of barriers and relief points.

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Barriers should be used to control crowd movements and limit access to each area, and relief points, or exits, should avoid adding more people to already-crowded situations, Tidwell said.

"You need these in place, especially at concerts, because there's already a stimulus for the crowd to push up against the stage and to be a little out of hand," he said.

In those instances, safety experts advise anyone in a crowd surge to keep your arms at chest level, go in the direction of the crowd, stay away from barriers and save your breath.

Keeping your arms up protects your rib cage and helps your ability to breathe. Fighting a crowd surge can be a waste of energy and potentially knock you off balance.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Avoid walls, fences or any other obstructions, and try to work your way to safety. Because the vast majority of stampede deaths are caused by asphyxiation, try to control your breathing and avoid screaming.

Most deaths related to crowd surges in recent years have happened in countries that don't have the regulations the United States has in place. But regulations and changes to safety practices at venues always accompany tragedies like the one on Friday, Onesti said.

Communication is paramount to safety at concerts, Onesti said.

"There's a chain of command that goes all the way up to the stage," he said. "These are things that are rehearsed and choreographed, and I'm sure there was a meeting of likely hundreds of people there. The whole thing is weird in light of where we're at now. It's extremely surprising that this could have happened."

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