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What is a crowd surge? What happened at Travis Scott's concert at the Astroworld Festival?

The tragic incidents at Astroworld Festival in Houston took the lives of eight people, many artists warn against crowd surge during performances.

Update:
The tragic incidents at Astroworld Festival in Houston took the lives of eight people, many artists warn against crowd surge during performances.
TIMOTHY A. CLARYAFP

Late Friday night during Travis Scott's performance at the Astroworld Festival in Houston eight people were killed during a "crowd surge" incident. Shortly after, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña described what had happened as a "mass casualty event."

More than twenty people, including a ten-year-old boy, were rushed to the hospital in critical condition, and hundreds of others were treated for injuries at a field hospital on the event grounds.

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner also addressed the public on Friday night and asked for patience saying that “it's very important that none of us speculate. Nobody has all the answers tonight.” Over the weekend, Chief Finner hosted a press conference saying that an investigation had been opened, and the homicide and narcotic divisions had been involved.

What is a crowd surge?

A crowd surge is a situation where a large group of people begins to move chaotically and it becomes impossible for some people to escape the forces of the movement. These events are not uncommon in a concert setting. In these situations the crowd begins to push from the back meaning that those in the front can be pushed forward, sometimes into the stage or barricade, leaving little room to escape.

Chief Finner voiced concerns before Scott's performance

The Houston Police Department has released a statement highlighting that Chief Finner spoke with Scott before his performance voicing his concerns saying that in his thirty-one years of experience, he had "never seen a time with more challenges facing citizens of all ages to include a global pandemic and social tension throughout the nation."

During his performance, Travis Scott had stopped multiple times because from his vantage point he was able to see that some people were struggling to fight the force of the crowd. Joey Guerra, a music critic for the Houston Chronicle spoke to BBC Radio 5 and detailed what he saw saying: “Travis Scott himself did stop the show several times to point out people near the front who were in distress or needed help and he would get security to come and help them. I don't think he was aware of the extent of what was going on. “

Various people who were in the crowd have shared their experiences. Madeline Eskins, an ICU nurse, and her boyfriend who attended the concert told CNN that as it came closer to the time of Scott’s performance the situation began to worsen, “All of a sudden, people come pressed up against each other, pushed forward and backward.” After Scott’s first song, Eskins told her boyfriend that they needed to leave, saying “I had constant pressure on my chest … I was being squeezed.”

In an interview with CNN, Chief Peña said that "the crowd for whatever reason began to push and surge towards the front of the stage, which caused the people in the front to be compressed — they were unable to escape that situation." At this point, it is still unclear whether there was a trigger for the sudden surge or if the size of the audience which reached nearly 50,000 did not have adequate space. 

Safety at the event

After the deadly incident reports about the safety protocols in place at the festival began to surface. Guerra also reported that earlier in the day there had been other concerning incidents including a stampede that led to hundreds of people entering the Festival area without going through the proper safety protocols. This included jumping through or over metal detectors and evading festival security.

Evidence of druggings in the crowd

During the press conference this weekend, Finner confirmed that they were investigating reports that “some individual was injecting other people with drugs.” He continued saying that one of the possible victims was a security officer who was “reaching over to restrain or grab a citizen and felt a prick in his neck.” The officer was quickly examined by medical professionals who administered Narcan which is used to avoid an opioid overdose and shared that the officer “was revived and the medical staff did notice a prick that was similar to a prick that you would get if somebody is trying to inject [a person].”

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