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13 Investigates the dangers of crowd crush as Day N Vegas kicks off in wake of Astroworld disaster

Investigating crowd control dynamics
2021 Astroworld Festival - Day One
Posted at 4:59 PM, Nov 11, 2021

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Exactly a week after nine people suffered fatal injuries during a massive crowd surge at a Houston music festival, the same company is putting on a festival here in Las Vegas.

It's called Day N Vegas at the Las Vegas Festival grounds.

Safety is top of mind across the board. 13 Investigates digs into the dynamics of crowd control.

"No one wanted anyone to die at that festival," Paul Wertheimer says of the Astroworld tragedy in Houston. "But, individually and together, they created an environment in which people could die. And last Friday, they did."

MORE: Safety concerns for large events, festivals after Astroworld tragedy

Wertheimer has decades of experience with crowd dynamics. He was working for the City of Cincinnati on Dec. 3 1979, the night of a now-infamous similar disaster at a concert by The Who.

"I came down there that night after the disaster was evident: 11 deaths, and the fans were inside," Wertheimer said.

Wertheimer was appointed chief of the task force to prevent another tragedy, authoring a first-of-its-kind report that's still used to this day. It identified "festival seating" or "general admission" as a primary concern.

"We've known since 1979, or since 1980 — the release of the report — the dangers of festival seating, standing room, arguably the most dangerous crowd configuration at concerts and festivals," Wertheimer said.

In those scenarios, the absence of assigned or designated seating areas created a free-for-all environment, Wertheimer said, "because everyone who has a festival seating, general admission ticket has a right to be in that perfect spot in front of the mic of the lead singer."

People try to move back at Travis Scott concert

Still, he says crowd surge is totally preventable, noting safety codes from the National Fire Protection Association that address crowd density and management.

"But the Achilles heel for promoters is, it reduces their profit," Wertheimer said.

Lower density usually means selling fewer tickets. So, who's ultimately responsible for safety and what role do performers like Travis Scott play?

"Travis Scott has, at least, a moral responsibility," Wertheimer argued.

He says artists have great power and sway over the crowd, but there's a limit.

"The artist has to make sure that he doesn't take it over the top, and the artist actually has to realize that he doesn't have ultimate power to stop things when they do go over the top," he said.

In spite of that power, Wertheimer cautioned that performers shouldn't be scapegoats when crowd control fails. Large concert events like EDC, Life is Beautiful and Burning Man all have event operation plans designed to address crowd safety and risk management.

Wertheimer says the plan he saw for Astroworld was lacking.

"We know that they didn't even address the crowd in front of the stage," he said. "Didn't even address safety concerns for festival seating and dense crowds and crowd crushing. Crowd surge, crowd collapse, moshing, stage diving, crowd surfing — not even mentioned in the report."

Astroworld tragedy: Safety plan for event did not include protocols for a potential crowd surge

He calls that a devastating omission.

"If it's not mentioned in the crowd management plan, then there's no way to address an emergency situation with the crowd because nobody knows what to do," he said.

Ultimately, Wertheimer said, many share the blame in the Houston tragedy.

"It's a complete failure," he said. "Look, the responsible parties for this disaster are the people who planned the event, managed the event, profited from the event, and approved the event."

That group includes the Houston-area public safety agencies that signed off on the operations plan.

'It made me sick to my stomach': 1 October survivor reacts to Astroworld Festival tragedy

We asked to see the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department's operations plan for this weekend's Day N Vegas festival, but they wouldn't share it, citing security reasons.

"They can take steps now, if they hadn't before, to modify their plan and absolutely make sure nothing like this that happened in Houston happens in Las Vegas," Wertheimer said.

Las Vegas police are asking those questions, holding a joint agency briefing Tuesday with the Clark County and Las Vegas Fire Departments, Nevada Highway Patrol and even the FBI, to run through multiple scenarios and coordinate emergency response.

LVMPD provided the following statement:

"The LVMPD has been working closely for months with event organizers and other public safety agencies to ensure the safety of those attending Day N Vegas. We want the public to know that we are doing everything we can to keep them safe so they can enjoy the festival to the fullest."

Production company LIVE NATION announced Travis Scott will no longer be performing at Day N Vegas. They say security and safety are always top priorities in festival planning. LIVE NATION did not respond to a request for details about what updated precautions may be taken.

MORE: Lawsuit filed against Travis Scott, others following Friday's deadly 'Astroworld' music festival

Circus Circus, which manages the Las Vegas Festival Grounds, also didn't respond to a request for comment on their role in keeping the concert crowd safe.

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