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Texas task force calls for concert safety improvements

Spurred by deaths at an outdoor concert in Houston last year, a task force recommended Texas implement a statewide permitting process for concert organizers.

HOUSTON (CN) — Formed by the governor after an overpacked Houston concert left 10 people dead last November, the Texas Task Force on Concert Safety issued a report Tuesday urging concert promoters and local authorities to establish clear guidelines for when a show should be paused or ended.

A crowd of 50,000 at rapper Travis Scott’s Astroworld Music Festival, staged on parking lots at NRG Park in Houston, became dangerously compacted as Scott performed the night of Nov. 5.

Concertgoers struggled to breathe with their bodies jammed so tightly that those who lifted their arms could not lower them. People passed out and fell among the throng. Eight people died at the concert and another two after they were taken to hospitals. The victims, ages 9 to 27, were all determined to have died from accidental compressive asphyxiation.

Five days later, Texas Governor Greg Abbott launched the task force with the goal of ensuring such a tragedy never happens again in the Lone Star State.

Comprised of law enforcement officials, public safety experts, state agency employees, representatives of large Texas concert venues and music industry veterans, the group held nine meetings and released its recommendations Tuesday in a nine-page report.

The task force emphasized the onsite “command and control group” for concerts, commonly made up of event managers, law enforcement and emergency responders, must establish “clearly outlined triggers for pausing or canceling” shows, designate a person from the production team with authority to stop the show and clearly communicate and document the chain of command.

Noting the permitting process for concerts varies among the state’s 254 counties, the task force also recommended the use of a “universal permitting template,” including a checklist for county leaders responsible for issuing permits to go through and ensure all safety issues are considered.

To increase accountability, the task force added, the permit applicant and county official should both sign the agreements.

In the aftermath of the Astroworld debacle, people hired as security for the festival told reporters that when they showed up the morning of Scott’s concert, they were handed vests identifying them as staff and immediately dispatched to their posts around NRG park with no training and no background checks.

The task force recommended comprehensive training for security staffers.

“A series of preshow steps, such as tabletop exercises, site walk-through drills, security briefings before and after shifts, establishment of a clear and well-disseminated communication tree, and agreed-upon show-stop triggers and responses are some of the elements of successful event protocol,” the report states.

Law enforcement and security guards stationed at fences erected around the Astroworld festival struggled to keep order starting early in the morning of Scott’s show, as rowdy fans without tickets stormed past gates and knocked over metal detectors.

The task force advised promoters should devise a “concert attendee code of conduct” as part of the ticket-buying process, laying out clearly what conduct will lead to attendees getting removed from the show.

In addition, the group said, concert organizers should talk to agents of other venues who have hosted the performer.

“Some artists have a documented history of encouraging attendees to disregard public safety. When an artist does this, it could be considered a breach of contract and come with responsibility for any damage to property and people,” the report notes.

While the report does not mention Scott’s history with his devoted fans, this is clearly a reference to the 30-year-old Houston native, whose real name is Jacques Webster.

In court filings, some of the injured Astroworld attendees who named Scott as a defendant in their lawsuits say the rapper has a history of inciting fans at his concerts, including a 2015 arrest in Chicago for disorderly conduct after he told fans during his show at Lollapalooza to jump over barricades; and a 2017 arrest for allegedly inciting a riot at an Arkansas concert.

In 2017, a fan was paralyzed at a Scott concert in New York City after a raucous crowd incited by Scott pushed the fan off a balcony, according to one lawsuit filed in Houston.

Abbott’s office said he will also encourage state lawmakers to pass regulations aimed at maintaining crowd safety at large events, using the task force's suggestions as a guide.

"From crowd control strategies to security measures to addressing controlled substances, the recommendations, findings, and solutions detailed in the Task Force’s report will help our state prevent another such tragedy from happening again, and Governor Abbott will work with the Legislature to ensure it never does," his spokeswoman Renae Eze said in an email.

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Categories / Entertainment, Government, Regional

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