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Astroworld investigation: ‘This is about learning’

Prof Chris Kemp speaks to IQ about concert safety following deadly crowd surge at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival

By James Hanley on 08 Nov 2021

Chris Kemp, E3S 2017

Chris Kemp of Mind Over Matter


Crowded space expert Professor Chris Kemp has spoken to IQ about concert safety following the deadly crowd surge at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival in Houston, Texas.

Police have opened a criminal investigation after at least eight people, aged between 14-27, died and hundreds others were injured at the 50,000-capacity event at NRG Park on Friday (5 November). Multiple lawsuits have already been filed by Astroworld attendees.

Inquiries are expected to take “weeks if not months” to complete, and Kemp, of Mind Over Matter Consultancy, hopes the findings will go towards preventing similar tragedies in the future.

“These reports sometimes contain less than is actually needed because they tend to focus on blame, rather than support in delivery and development,” he tells IQ. “But what needs to be looked at is both the distal and proximate causations – those elements are so important for the industry to learn from – because this is about learning.”

He adds: “There are a lot of things going on at an event of that size and you have to make sure you’re mitigating risks as much as you possibly can. But I can’t cast aspersions about anything that happened to that event, because I don’t know and we don’t know. All we’re getting is snippets from the press, newspapers, TV, and remember, people like sensationalising things. We need to know the underpinning facts. And as those come out, to learn from them and take that on board.”

Kemp explains the key areas likely to be scrutinised by the authorities.

“It’s most likely going to focus on the planning of the event, the management of the event, the artist’s behaviour, the crowd behaviour,” he says. “It will focus on a range of things with those as major blocks, but also the interoperability between all the services that were there.

“We haven’t yet really got a full view from anybody about what happened. We know what the main elements are, but the overall timeline hasn’t been released yet.”

It’s about three key elements: security, safety and service

Such concert tragedies are infrequent, but not unprecedented. Eleven people died in a crush at a gig by The Who at Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1979, while two people were killed at a Guns N’ Roses performance at the UK’s Monsters of Rock festival in 1988 and three people died at an AC/DC concert at The Salt Palace in Salt Lake City in 1991.

Since the turn of the century, nine people died at Pearl Jam’s 2000 headline show at Denmark’s Roskilde Festival and 21 people died and more than 650 were injured in a July 2010 crush in a tunnel that served as the sole entrance to the Love Parade festival in Duisburg, Germany.

“The occurrences themselves are fairly rare,” says Kemp. “But there are thousands of near misses. And it’s about three key elements: security, safety and service, which are things that you balance to make the event work.

“Planning, communication and management, of course, are absolutely essential in ensuring the event is fit for purpose before people come into it.”

Kemp also addressed reports that a concert-goer was going around injecting people with drugs at the Astroworld event.

“Although that was probably not a contributing factor to the disaster, I think it’s something that we need to keep our eye on because it’s been brought up from all sorts of different events, starting in UK nightclubs,” he says. “So it’s very difficult to get a handle on.”

 


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