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Astroworld Festival Had No Clear Crowd Surge Protocol, Newly Leaked Event Documents Show
Astroworld Festival organizers instructed event staff to refer to possible fatalities of concert-goers as “smurfs,” according to a leaked event operations manual.
Astroworld Festival’s security officials didn’t appear to have a protocol to contain a mass crowd surge, according to newly released documents allegedly drafted by event organizers.
A 56-page Event Operations Plan, obtained by CNN, sheds light on a series of catastrophic security failures that led to the deaths of eight people — and the injuries of hundreds more — many of whom were trampled — during Travis Scott’s headlining performance at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on Nov. 5.
The document provides response-groundwork for a number of varying security issues, including how to handle a mass shooting, extreme weather, the evacuation of disabled guests, and how to diffuse large crowds. Most notably absent from the document, though, was any form of comprehensive response protocol to a potential crowd surge.
“The key in properly dealing with this type of scenario is proper management of the crowd from the minute the doors open," the operations plan notes. "Crowd management techniques will be employed to identify potentially dangerous crowd behavior in its early stages in an effort to prevent a civil disturbance/riot."
However, no specifics are further mentioned or elaborated on. The event operations plan is listed as “Version: 0.1.” It’s unclear if the report was a draft or the finalized version. The names of the individuals or groups who prepared the documents are redacted, but the logo for ScoreMore Shows, the event’s producer, is featured prominently on the document’s cover page.
The redacted document also raises questions regarding other questionable protocols.
As countless concert-goers suffered heart failure, drug overdoses, respiratory issues — and turned “black and blue” — as the crowd crushed forward, security officials were instructed to use the code word “smurf” over the radio when referring to possible fatalities.
“Notify Event Control of a suspected deceased victim utilizing the code “Smurf,” the document stated. “Never use the term “dead” or “deceased” over the radio.”
Astroworld’s festival director and its executive producer were the only two organizers with the proper authority to halt the show, according to the operation's report.
Festival organizers have also come under fire for alleged lax hiring procedures of its security workers, some of whom had little to no background in crowd control.
“If you look at my resume, I only have hospitality and retail experience,” Darius Williams, 32, who worked the concert, told the Rolling Stone. “It felt like they just needed bodies, like they were hiring anyone who passed a background test. They even increased the bonus they were offering.”
Meanwhile, Travis Scott, the event’s founder, who named the festival after his chart-topping 2018 album, “Astroworld,” is also facing significant legal blowback following the deadly festival. Scott, who’s real name is Jacques Berman Webster II, is being sued for negligence and “inciting the crowd,” along with co-performer and Canadian hip hop artist, Drake.
The Houston rapper was allegedly aware of the chaos, and continued performing as emergency rescue crews flooded the festival grounds. He’s since apologized and canceled an upcoming headlining slot at Nevada’s Day N Vegas Festival, according to Variety.
“I’m absolutely devastated by what took place last night,” Scott said a statement posted to Twitter on Nov. 6. “My prayers go out to the families and all those impacted by what happened at Astroworld Festival.”
Scott added he was working with Houston Police regarding their ongoing criminal investigation into the matter. The 30-year-old has agreed to pay for funeral costs for all eight who died at the concert venue, NPR reported.
"Travis remains in active conversations with the city of Houston, law enforcement and local first responders to respectfully and appropriately connect with the individuals and families of those involved," a spokesperson for Scott added, according to The Hill. "These are the first of many steps Travis plans on taking as a part of his personal vow to assist those affected throughout their grieving and recovery process."
However, Houston Chief of Police Troy Finner later acknowledged he briefly met with Scott prior to the concert to discuss his own public safety concerns.
“I met with Travis Scott and his head of security for a few moments last Friday prior to the main event,” Finner said in a statement published on Twitter. “I expressed my concerns regarding public safety.”
Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney who represented George Floyd's family, has also filed a lawsuit against Astroworld organizers on behalf of the family of 9-year-old Ezra Blount, who is now in a coma following the concert.
“The lawsuit alleges negligence in a great number of aspects, including crowd control, failure to provide proper medical attention, hiring, training, supervision, and retention," Crump told Oxygen.com in a prepared statement."The lawsuit names Scoremore Mgmt, Live Nation Entertainment, Travis Scott, Cactus Jack Records, and others as defendants. The lawsuit filing will allow independent experts commissioned by the legal team to access the roped-off crime scene at the festival.”
Crump, who accused organizers of waiting 40 minutes before addressing a possible “mass casualty event,” flatly insisted the tragedy could have easily been averted. Blount was trampled after falling from his father’s shoulders. He sustained severe brain swelling, as well as cardiac arrest, and has since been placed in a medically-induced coma, NBC News reported.
“This young child and his family will face life-altering trauma from this day forward, a reality that nobody expects when they buy concert tickets,” Crump added. “Concerts and music festivals such as this are meant to be a safe place for people of all ages to enjoy music in a controlled environment. None of that was true about the Astroworld Festival. This little boy is currently fighting for his life, and his parents will never know the same child they entered Astroworld with.”
Astroworld event organizers, as well as ScoreMore Shows, did not respond to Oxygen.com’s request for comment regarding the event operations documents.