Concert Venues Crowd Control Regulations
Journal of Regulatory Compliance
Loyola University of Chicago School of Law, JD 2022
On November 5, 2021, Travis Scott performed a concert at the Astroworld Festival in Austin to a crowd of fifty thousand people. In the hour that he performed, eight people were killed in a deadly crowd crush (another concert goer losing their life days after), and hundreds were injured. Multiple lawsuits have been filed against Travis Scott himself, as well as the production companies that organized the show in response to the tragedy. In the wake of the devastating event, regulations concerning crowd control and management must also be considered, as well as whether these regulations were complied with by the organizers of Astroworld.
There are countless risks to gatherings of this magnitude. Specifically, in a concert setting where people are packed in shoulder to shoulder in a confined area, these include deadly crowd surges, accessibility to medical staff in the event of an emergency, and events that would require the evacuation of concert goers. As such, it is reasonable to expect there to be clear laws and regulations concerning requirements for concerts organizers and venues in order to address these concerns. Unfortunately, that is not the case in this country.
Crowd safety regulations
There are no federal laws concerning crowd safety. Instead, the National Fire Protection Association is deferred to in most jurisdictions with over four hundred jurisdictions adopting the association’s 101 Life Safety Code. The Code is revised every three years to best protect lives as well as address fire safety concerns. The recently updated 2021 edition set several standards concerning crowd safety including; (1) having at least one crowd manager for every two hundred and fifty occupants, (2) crowd density must not exceed one person for every seven square feet (approximately 2.6 feet by 2.6 feet) in spaces larger than ten thousand square feet, (3) there must be adequate access to exits which at an event like Astroworld would include exits distributed around the perimeter of the space that could accommodate the entire crowd, and (4) life and safety evaluations detailing safety measures in the case of medical emergencies, natural disasters and other possible emergencies. But these regulations are not adopted everywhere leaving a confusing array of inconsistent regulations throughout the county.
Astroworld operations plan
In the case of Astroworld Fest, an operations plan was in place with portions detailing crowd control and the mechanisms the event would use to help manage the massive crowd including an incident management section which stated, “the Festival employs experienced, licensed event security to assist with crowd management and security at the scene of an incident.” The plan also included the vague outline that, “crowd management techniques will be employed to identify potentially dangerous crowd behavior in its early states in an effort to prevent a civil disturbance/riot.” These inclusions were likely due to similar incidents at Scott’s prior concerts which have drawn him harsh criticism and even arrest due to inciting a riot in 2018. More concerning is the section of the plan which seems to identify the possibility of the life-threatening circumstances and dictated that staff was avoid the use of the terms “dead” or “deceased” when communicating with event organizers over the radio.
Despite Astroworld’s operations plan including procedures for a variety of emergencies, but “there’s no reference to crowd surge, crowd crush, crowd panic… and therefore, there’s no specific emergency planning for a mass casualty crowd crush event,” stated Paul Wertheimer, the founder of Crowd Management Strategies. And a mass casualty crowd crush event is exactly what happened at the concert in Austin.
Better crowd management regulations
Austin itself has a history of huge music festivals and concerts, some of which have turned dangerous in the past. This led to the Austin City Council creating the Austin Center of Events in 2012. “For large events, these regulatory bodies work months in advance with organizers to provide the safest possible environment for events to occur in Austin,” a spokesperson for the Center said in a statement. Despite these efforts, the Astroworld tragedy highlights the short comings and lack of regulation and a cohesive standard regarding crowd control and management.
In the wake of such a tragedy, it is crucial for regulation to evolve to address the pressing issue of crowd control and management. One such change that would help protect attendants at these events that draw massive crowds, is the universal adoption of crowd management regulations such as the 101 Life Safety Code and for the inclusion of heavy fines for violations. Organizers especially must be held accountable for their failure to properly prepare for these events and not only in civil suits after the fact. While it is still up to the courts to determine whether the events that transpired at Astroworld were preventable, efforts must be made to ensure the proper regulations and penalties are in place to avoid and incident like this again in the future.