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Astroworld Festival disaster is the latest fatal concert crowd surge. Experts say it won’t be the last.

The crowd watches as Travis Scott performs at Astroworld Festival at NRG park on Friday in Houston. Several people died and numerous others were injured in what officials described as a surge of the crowd at the music festival while Scott was performing. (Jamaal Ellis/Houston Chronicle via AP)

As rapper Travis Scott commanded the stage at the Astroworld Festival on Friday night, excited fans packed together so closely they struggled to breathe. Within minutes, panic set in and scores were injured as concertgoers tried to escape. At least eight people were killed in the chaos, the latest tragedy to strike at a crowded music event.

While authorities investigate how the festival turned fatal, experts told The Washington Post that despite a long history of stampedes at concerts, crowd surge incidents continue to occur as calls for tighter safety standards go largely ignored.

“Sadly, the music industry hasn’t learned anything,” said Keith Still, a visiting professor at the University of Suffolk who specializes in crowd safety and crowd risk analysis. “These disasters highlight the problems that people face in places of public assembly.”

At least eight people were killed in a crush when fans surged toward the stage during the opening night of the Astroworld music festival in Houston. (Video: Reuters)

There have been numerous incidents in which concertgoers have died during a sudden rush among those in the crowd like that which police say happened in Houston.

In the United States, arguably the most notable incident came in 1979, when 11 people were killed as thousands of fans tried to get into a Cincinnati music venue to see famed British rock band The Who. A police officer recounted to the Cincinnati Enquirer that the thousands waiting for the gates to open “must have jammed the people up so tightly in front that they just passed out.”

“They didn’t even fall down,” the officer said in 1979. “They must have jammed up so tight that they didn’t get any air and just died.”

Paul Wertheimer, who has been called “the marshal of the mosh pit,” was the chief of staff for the task force that the mayor started to investigate the disaster. Despite recommendations calling for tighter national safety standards, banning festival seating and requiring concert organizers to file a crowd management plan, concerts and festivals continued to go on with no set rules for addressing large crowds, he said.

“Every time the industry has a wake-up call, it hits the snooze button,” said Wertheimer, the head of Crowd Management Strategies, a Los Angeles-based concert safety consulting firm.

Over a decade after the Cincinnati incident, in 1991, three teenagers were killed at an AC/DC show in Salt Lake City when the crowd surged toward the stage and the victims were “stepped on or crushed by the weight of other concertgoers,” police said. Two 14-year-old boys and a 19-year-old woman were trampled when they lost their footing. The band denied allegations from fans that they continued to play while the teens were crushed to death. Witnesses told the Associated Press in 1991 that a security guard attempted to get the Australian rock band to stop playing.

“He was frantic, trying to get the lead singer’s attention,” a fan said at the time.

Similar incidents have taken place at concerts and other crowded gatherings with routine frequency around the globe. A stampede at a 2008 Indonesian punk concert killed 10 and injured dozens. In 2018, six people died and more than 50 were injured after a stampede at a nightclub in Italy. A similar incident at a 2019 rap show in Algeria killed at least five. There have been several incidents in Latin America as well.

John Fruin, a retired research engineer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is considered a founder of crowd studies in the United States. In his 1993 paper on the topic, “The Causes and Prevention of Crowd Disasters,” Fruin found that “intense crowd pressures, exacerbated by anxiety, make it difficult to breathe.” People who are tightly packed together can die by getting trampled on but also standing up, due to what he describes as “compressional asphyxia.”

Fruin told The Post that when concertgoers are sandwiched together it can become impossible to breathe because of external pressure placed on the body, inhibiting respiratory movements. It is usually due to heavy weight on someone’s chest or abdomen, and is often associated with internal injuries, according to researchers. Those who survive may be lifted out of their shoes or have clothing torn off them.

“It’s an experience you can’t escape,” Fruin said. “You can’t move, you can’t determine your own destiny. The force is considerable. Once it gets going, it’s difficult to stop.”

Still, who is studying the case of the crowd stampede at the 2019 Rolling Loud festival in Miami, said there were warning signs that Astroworld Festival attendees faced danger. Videos posted to social media captured many storming the security gates at NRG Park, barreling over security in a chaotic scene that potentially let in more people who did not have tickets for the festival.

“That was an early indicator that it had the potential to go wrong,” he said. “If you have a high density crowd, then there is an increased risk of crowd crushing, which inevitably leads to these incidents.”

Wertheimer slammed the Astroworld Festival organizers, authorities and public officials for not doing enough to plan and assess the risk of a crowd of that size. About 50,000 people were estimated to have been in attendance at the outdoor space, police said.

“Overcrowding and crowd crushing is the original sin of event planners and promoters,” said Wertheimer. “The crowd in Houston never should have gotten that big and dense. It was a preventable tragedy that happened because safety precautions were ignored — and have been ignored time and time again because there are millions of dollars to be made here.”

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said that an investigation is ongoing.

Still also questioned whether more could have been done to anticipate this potential behavior. One way to do so is to look at the history of the performer, he said. Scott, 30, a Houston native and one of the world’s biggest rappers, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in 2018 for an incident at a concert in Arkansas the previous year, according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

“You have to look at the sort of problems at events that are similar in nature and design a safety system around those risks,” Still said. “You generally find that these types of incidents usually come down to a lack of training and understanding of the crowd risks.”

The experts who spoke to The Post emphasized that the concertgoers who often die or are injured in these crowd surges are young people. Wertheimer said young people are treated as “expendable” when these tragedies arise.

Even after decades of studying mass casualty events at large public gatherings, Still said the fatal crowd surge in Houston was another situation that left him saying, “Oh no, not again.” Until there is formalized safety training certification for concerts, these events will continue to happen for years to come, he said.

“These people should go to events and enjoy themselves. They shouldn’t go risking to lose their lives,” he said. “Every time there’s an incident, I hope the music industry takes notice. And then, another one happens.”

Complete coverage: 10 dead in crowd surge at Astroworld Festival

A crowded music festival in Houston turned deadly on Nov. 5 when a crush of concertgoers surged toward the stage where rapper Travis Scott was performing. Ten people have died.

The crowd surge victims include a 14-year-old who loved baseball, two friends celebrating a 21st birthday and a 27-year-old attending the concert with his fiancee. Here’s what we know about the victims.

At least seven of the 10 dead were clustered in a small area enclosed on three sides by metal barriers that became dangerously crowded.

Videos from the concert, where an estimated 50,000 people gathered, show attendees pleading for the event to end. Here’s what those videos show.

A criminal investigation is underway in Houston as law enforcement officials seek to understand how the deaths occurred.

Travis Scott’s concerts are known for their wild energy and the Astroworld Festival, launched in 2018, has become his signature event. Scott’s partner Kylie Jenner said early Sunday that he was unaware “of any fatalities until the news came out after the show.”

Fatal crowd surges at concerts continue, despite calls for tighter standards and security, experts say. Here’s a history of these events.

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