Unfortunately, yes. A crowd surge, as it’s referred to, is possible whenever there are large numbers of people in a confined space. However, there are concrete steps that organizers of a high-profile event should always take to minimize the possibility of injury or loss of life.
The incident that killed at least nine people at the Astroworld Music Festival in Texas is not unique. There have been numerous occurrences of people becoming trapped in crushing crowds during concerts and similar events over the past few decades.
According to the Associated Press, a high-profile incident happened at an English soccer stadium in 1989 that killed 100 people. In 2015 during a hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, over 2,400 people were killed.
What exactly happens during a crowd surge?
No one can really say for sure exactly how a crowd surge sparks at any particular event, but experts interviewed by the AP say that such incidents have commonalities.
First, there is always a crowd confined in a limited space. Then, something happens that gets the crowd moving. The crowd may start uncontrollably pushing in one direction, or pressure can come from both directions as others attempt to push back in an attempt to escape.
As a result, compression occurs.
People often describe being swept up by the pressure of the crowd, often completely unable to protect or free themselves. They gradually become pressed together and unable to move. They may even see people around them getting trampled but cannot provide help.
Contrary to popular belief, individuals usually die from asphyxiation not trampling. Due to the compression, they simply could not get enough oxygen.
How such tragedies can be prevented
When enormous crowds of people are expected to be cramped into a small space, event organizers or security should have protocols in place before the event starts in order to prevent injury or death.
First, they should avoid allowing crowds to become so compressed in the first place, as such incidents are known to have a high risk of danger.
The crowd density, regardless of the type of event, should meet the National Fire Protection Association’s guidelines. Generally, this means that there is enough space in relation to the crown size with gaps provided to allow people to move freely.
If there is a particularly high-energy crowd that is expected, organizers should take extra precautions.
Pens can be set up to break the crowd into smaller sections. Bollards and safety fencing are also options to use to create pathways for security and for emergencies.
Regardless of what protocols are put into place, event security should always manage the crowd at all times during the event – and expect the worst in order to prepare appropriately. Trained crowd watchers with noise-canceling headphones and direct access to someone in charge should be brought in to monitor the crowd. Those in charge must be willing and able to stop the event if there is an emergency.
These are just a handful of safety measures that can be put in place by event organizers to prevent tragedies like the recent occurrence at Astroworld. However, if those in charge simply do nothing and fail to protect those in attendance, they could face negligence lawsuits under the law by injured parties and their families.