13 Investigates looks at the warning signs leading up to the Astroworld tragedy
What happened? |
'Concert from hell'
Warning Signs |
Moving forward |
Honoring the victims
HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston Fire Department officials watched from outside the Astroworld Festival at NRG Park Friday afternoon as it began going “horribly wrong.”
HFD Union President Marty Lancton said the department had zero personnel inside the county-owned facility, but had four employees on standby outside the venue.
City documents obtained by 13 Investigates say within minutes of the event, organizers lost control.
But, HFD leadership said it never received a call from the organizers before or during the festival, where eight people died when the crowd became more compact as concert goers rushed toward the stage during rapper Houston area native Travis Scott’s performance.
A 56-page event operations plan 13 Investigates obtained says in the event of a mass casualty incident, event personnel will “notify the local jurisdiction to advise of the nature and scope of the incident, the approximate number of casualties, best access into the area, possible staging area for incoming ambulances and any possible hazards, including if decontamination of patients may be needed.”
The plan, by ScoreMore Shows, a subsidiary of the event’s organizer Live Nation, also mentions that “the ever-present threat of a mass casualty situation” is identified as a “key concern.”
ParaDocs Worldwide Inc., a company hired by Live Nation, also submitted a 22-page document to the county that outlined its medical plan.
Paradocs’ plan had procedures in place to “establish a mutual aid procedure with local EMS to provide backup to the event in case of a major MCI (or Mass Casualty Incident)” and included a flow chart of events if “on-site EMS services become overwhelmed and outside sources need to be summoned.”
The plan mentions the EMS Director will notify the local jurisdiction, including the police and fire departments. But, HFD said it never received any calls from anyone in charge of the event.
Instead, Lancton HFD fire and EMS responded on its own after hearing radio traffic of people passing out and going into cardiac arrest.
“Our firefighters, the four of those (outside), were listening to multiple radios and all reports that I've gotten are the same,” Lancton said. “When they started to hear radio calls not go answered, started to hear people and the panic and their voice and not hear a response to the emergencies happening on the inside, that they took it upon themselves to initiate not only a strike team, a standby team, but to initiate the process and the resources of the Houston Fire Department.”
In an email, ParaDocs said “our hearts go out to those injured, and to those who have perished, and to those whose lives have now been adversely and permanently effected; individuals, families and friends.”
“Taking on the immense responsibility of providing medical care for large venue events is a passion we have been performing for more than seven years. Our core team consists of emergency medical professionals with an average of 12 years medical and extreme trauma experience,” the statement says. … “We follow strict protocols and have effective procedures for the events we cover. For Friday’s festival we were prepared for the size of the venue and the expected audience with a trained team of medics and EMTs equipped for rapid emergency response.”
Once on scene, Lancton said first responders went to the gate they were told to go to while responding, but once they arrived at that gate, they were told to go to another gate. At the other gate, they were told to go back to that first gate, all while trying to navigate the crowded and chaotic venue.
Despite the written plans, HFD says there were no clear lines of communication in place.
In fact, the communication issues between local emergency response agencies and organizers was an issue nearly 12 hours before the event.
On the morning of the festival, an HFD supervisor was turned down by the organizer’s security team when the city official asked to do a walkthrough of the county-owned NRG Park facility.
The assistant chief was the point of contact for in the event of an emergency and wanted to be prepared but was turned away.
ScoreMore's plan mentions a 2-way radio communications system that is used by the organizer’s Event Control Center to communicate in emergency situations.
Despite asking organizers for a radio in case of an emergency, Lancton said HFD was denied. He said the only information they received to communicate with organizers was a cell phone number.
But, ScoreMore’s own plan acknowledges that cellphone communication should be used as a “last resort as it is expected that cell phone networks will be slow and unreliable with the expected additional traffic during the event.”
ScoreMore’s plan also outlines a Public Address Announcement process, where an emergency alert could be announced over a loudspeaker system to alert all attendees about a partial or full emergency or non-emergency evacuation is needed.
“Ladies and gentleman, may I have your attention please,” says the emergency script in the plan. “A situation exists that requires us to evacuate the venue. We are suspending all festival programming at this time.”
In addition to directing attendees to exit the venue calmly, the plan also says to instruct festival-goers to monitor social media for updates. None of the Astroworld social media platforms mentioned the need for evacuation or updates on the status of the concert while people were trying to leave.
We reached out to multiple numbers listed on ScoreMore's planning documents, but none of our calls were returned. Calls to Live Nation by multiple members of the ABC13 staff also were not returned.
The first public post about the event wasn’t until around 6 a.m. Saturday, after casualties had been announced.
"Our hearts are with the Astroworld Festival family tonight - especially those we lost and their loved ones," the Astroworld post says. "We are focused on supporting local officials however we can. With that in mind the festival will no longer be held on Saturday."
Initial reports indicate attendees were not alerted to the mass casualty incident as people were passing out and they were trying to leave the venue.
Instead, video of the concert shows attendees chanting “stop the show” in an effort to get Travis Scott and his promoter’s attention.
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said promoters, the city and police departments and NRG officials were communicating around 9:30 p.m. Friday once a critical, and ultimately deadly, incident was established.
Attendees say the last song started at 10:10 p.m., leaving a nearly 40-minute window where organizers and city officials were aware of a critical incident but that the concert went on while people were passing out, some of them going into cardiac arrest.
“You could feel the pushing. It was like a ripple effect. It was like a wave. You were just going forward and backward and forward and backward and side to side. It was just everywhere,” one concertgoer told ABC13.
Finner said that one song didn’t make a difference. There were 50,000 packed next to one another during the general admission concert. Plans for the concert say it expected up to 70,000 people.
“You cannot just close, when you’ve got over 50,000 individuals,” Finner said on Saturday. “We have to worry about riots when you have a group that’s that young.”
HPD said it had 528 total police officers at the event, including 367 police officers who were on site for the evening shift and 161 that were held over from the day shift. Live Nation had 755 security officers.
Paradocs' documents show it planned to have 60 EMT, three dispatchers, six paramedics, four rescue workers, two medical doctors, eight registered nurses and four supervisors, in addition to five ambulances.
The plan also showed four medical response carts for the entire event. The carts were equipped with LED warning lights and audible sirens and used for medical emergencies.
But, video from Friday shows one of those private EMS carts could not make its way through the crowd.
The festival resulted in eight deaths and 25 hospitalizations.
ScoreMore’s plan has a section dealing with “traumatic injury resulting in death.”
The top of that section of the plan says in the event of a death, workers should notify event control “using the code ‘Smurf.’ Never use the term ‘dead’ or ‘deceased’ over the radio."
In addition to requesting a supervisor and notifying the event director or security phone, the plan also says that staff should “watch for angry groups, mobs forming.”
That same plan identifies death of an employee or attendee as a Class 1 incident, which “are major and pose the greatest risk of future liability.”
In the wake of the Astroworld Festival weekend tragedy, tickets for Billy Joel's Sept. 2022 show at Minute Maid Park, which Live Nation announced last week, are on hold.
As officials work to piece together what happened, Finner said a criminal investigation is underway.
“We are talking with those individuals who have been hospitalized to try and get a much better understanding of what took place, what went wrong, where were the missteps. Certainly HPD and other law enforcement organizations will be looking at as much of the video footage as possible,” FInner said.
The chief said he met with Scott on Friday to express his concerns.
“I asked Travis Scott and his team to work with HPD for all events over the weekend and to be mindful of his team’s social media messaging on any unscheduled events. The meeting was brief and respectful and a chance for me to share my public safety concerns as Chief of Police.”
In a statement, Scott thanked Houston police, fire and NRG Park for their immediate response. He has offered refunds to everyone who attended the concert and to pay funeral expenses for those who died.
“I’m absolutely devastated by what took place last night. My prayers go out to the families and all those impacted by what happened at Astroworld Festival.”
ABC News confirmed the FBI is now assisting with the criminal investigation.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she is also launching an independent investigation into what happened.
“Live Nation and Astroworld put together plans for this event. A security plan, a site plan,” Hidalgo said. “They were at the table with city of Houston agencies and Harris county’s NRG Park and so perhaps the plans were inadequate. Perhaps the plans were good but they weren’t followed. Perhaps it was something else entirely.”
Lancton said moving forward, he hopes there will be better plans in place, that are followed, in large events like Friday’s.
“Lives of the people that we protect are sacred. The job that we do is sacred and it is our responsibility to ensure we are doing everything possible to mitigate risk and it starts with communication and planning and logistics and resources,” Lancton said. “It also starts with ensuring that the people that are there understand what resources, logistics and capabilities are there so that we can effectively and expeditiously as possible, get to the emergency, mitigate it and make the tough decisions because if it's a question between life and death, the question and the answer will always be life and if it's somebody's event, life takes precedent.”
Nov. 10, 2019
Three people were transported to the hospital with minor leg injuries after being trampled as they attempted to enter the Astroworld Festival as it started at NRG Park. Barricades into the venue collapsed and the gates fell to the ground, allowing hundreds of fans to stampede into the festival at once. HPD said on Twitter that it was sending additional officers to the festival, the event was understaffed and that "promoters did not plan sufficiently for the large crowds. That tweet was later deleted and in a new tweet HPD said they are "collaborating closely with the festival to ensure the public safety of everyone attending the event."
Astroworld Festival is cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oct. 24, 2021
Chaos and commotion caused Rapper Playboi Carti's concert at NRG Stadium to be canceled. One fan said, "People came to the concert really amped up and ready to go crazy. Maybe the people at NRG weren't prepared for that." Pictures and video shared with ABC13 show fans bypassed security and knocked down metal detectors. A witness told ABC13 she saw an ambulance was called for someone who had been trampled during the chaos, but no details regarding that were released.
Nov. 8, 2021
The first lawsuit related to the Astroworld tragedy is filed in Harris County against Live Nation, who was responsible for security at the event, and Travis Scott. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Harris County man who said he suffered serious bodily injuries after he was trampled in the midst of the deadly disaster. It claims that those responsible for the festival were negligent.
ABC13 crews were there before Astroworld began, when concertgoers destroyed the VIP entrance.
Chaos ensues at NRG Park. Calls start coming in about people collapsing. One caller told officials, “looks like folks are coming out of the crowd complaining of difficulty breathing, crushing type injuries.”
HFD says it never heard from organizers but responded to the incident on its own after hearing distressed calls. Eight people died. (Houston and Harris County authorities later explain eight people died and hundreds more were injured.)
Remembering the victims
Nov. 5, 2021
A supervisor with the Houston Fire Department asked Astroworld organizers for a walk through of the venue in the event of an emergency, but was denied.
By Ted Oberg and Sarah Rafique
ABC13's SkyEye helicopter captured the scene at NRG Park as fans were treated at Astroworld.
"Astroworld and its risk, safety and security managers realize the importance of having a thorough and detailed security plan in place for all live events despite the predicted attendance or perceived threat level. Based on the site’s layout and numerous past experiences, a Security Plan has been established to help mitigate potential negative issues within the scope of the festival. From this plan, the potential for multiple alcohol/drug related incidents, possible evacuation needs, and the ever-present threat of a mass casualty situation are identified as key concerns."
-Astroworld Emergency Operations Plan
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