8 deaths at the Texas Music Festival remind us that crowd influxes can kill – but how does it happen?

NEW YORK (AP) – Crowd deaths at a Houston music festival have added even more names to the long list of people who have been crushed at a major event.

Tragedies like that of a Friday night at the Astroland Music Festival have been happening for a long time. In 1979, 11 people died in a race to enter a The Who concert in Cincinnati, Ohio. At Hillsborough football stadium in England, a human crash in 1989 left nearly 100 people dead. In 2015, a collision of two crowds during the hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia left more than 2,400 people dead, according to an Associated Press tally of media reports and comments from authorities.

Now that more and more people are leaving their homes and returning to the crowds after several months of lockdown due to the pandemic, the risks are on the rise again.

Most major events happen without fatalities, of course, but experts say they see common traits in tragedies. Here’s a look at how they happen:


They are often squeezed so hard that they cannot get oxygen. It is not usually because they are being trampled.

When a crowd comes in, the force may be strong enough to bend the steel. It can also hit people in two directions: one at the back of the crowd pushing forward and another in front of the crowd trying to escape. If some people have fallen, causing a pile-up, the pressure may even come from above. People’s lungs are caught in the middle.


A UK investigation into the Hillsborough tragedy found that some form of asphyxiation was listed as the underlying cause in the vast majority of deaths. Other causes listed include “inhaling stomach contents”.

The deaths came as more than 50,000 fans flocked to the stadium for a soccer match on a hot, sunny day. Some of them piled up in a tunnel and were pressed against the perimeter fence so hard that their faces were distorted by the mesh, the investigation revealed.

“Survivors described being gradually squeezed, unable to move, their heads ‘locked between arms and shoulders… faces panting in panic’,” the report said. “They knew people were dying and they were powerless to save themselves. “


“My research spans over 100 years of disasters, and it invariably boils down to very similar characteristics,” said G. Keith Still, visiting professor of crowd science at Suffolk University in England who testified as expert witness in court. cases involving crowds.

The first is the design of the event, including ensuring that the crowd density does not exceed guidelines set by the National Fire Protection Association and others. It means having enough space for everyone and spaces large enough for people to move around.

Some venues will take precautions when they know that a particularly energetic crowd will be attending an event. Always underlined how some will set up enclosures around the stages in order to divide large crowds into smaller groups. It can also allow lanes for security guards or for emergency exits.


Crowd density may be the most important factor in a deadly wave, but it usually needs a catalyst to get everyone rushing in the same direction.

A sudden downpour of rain or hail could send everyone to safety, as was the case when 93 football fans in Nepal were killed as they rushed to the locked stadium exits in 1988. Or, in an example that Still says is much more common in the United States. United States than other countries, someone shouts, “He has a gun!” “

Power surges don’t always happen because people are leaking something. Sometimes they are caused by a crowd walking towards something, like an artist on stage, before hitting a barrier.

Still also cited of poor crowd management systems, where event planners don’t have strong procedures in place for reporting red flags or warnings, among the reasons fatal flare-ups occur.


Steve Allen of Crowd Safety, a UK-based consulting firm engaged in major events around the world, said it’s always important to watch the crowd, but especially now that events are picking up steam after the pandemic lockdown.

“As soon as you add people to the mix, there will always be a risk,” he said of crowds.

He recommends that the events have trained crowd watchers with noise-canceling headsets who are in direct communication with someone near the performer who is ready to temporarily stop the event if there is a life-threatening situation. danger. It could be a crowd surge, structural collapse, fire, or something else.

Allen said he personally interrupted around 25 performances of Oasis, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Eminem.


Professionals do not use the words “stampede” or “panic” to describe such scenarios, as this may shift the blame for the deaths onto those in the crowd. Instead, they more often point the finger at event organizers for not providing a safe environment.

“Safety doesn’t pay off,” Still said, “so this tends to be the last thing in the budget. “

Associated Press writer David Sharp in Portland, Maine contributed to this report.

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