Dealing With Disaster
Contributor: John Thomas Brewster
November 16, 2021
On November 5th, mayhem broke loose as Travis Scott’s “Astro World” festival turned deadly, claiming the lives of nine people. From the start the concert showed warning signs of trouble. Concert goers complained of dangerous conditions, a sea of people pushing and pulling. Numerous attendants mentioned not being able to move or breathe, and the medical tent (with a capacity for 10 people), was completely overrun as people began to collapse inside the crowds. From a marketing perspective there are lessons we can glean from incidents that are applicable across any field. What should have been done differently during the concert? What about after? And how do you control damage after it unfolds?
Monitor the situation as it unfolds. The best way to maintain events is to make sure that you are paying attention to everything, as it happens. Before Travis Scott stepped on stage, issues had already begun to emerge. By around 5pm, by either hopping fences or physically cutting them down with bolt cutters an estimated 5,000 people had broken their way into the festival. This meant that more people, and unruly people, were now pushing their way through the fields of people. Merchandise areas were also closed due to crowds becoming unruly. This should have been the first warning sign for the event managers that conditions were deteriorating. Once the concert began, chaos ensued. The massive crowd had turned into a sea of people, moving with a mind of its own. It was difficult for attendees to move in and out of the show, and even more difficult for medical workers and security to help them out. At this point alarm bells should have been ringing for the managers of the event. Bringing in more emergency workers, breaking up crowds, and distributing water are all actions that could have been taken to mitigate the disaster at hand. If they had been paying more attention to the events as they occurred, it may have been possible to avoid what happened later.
Have control over the situation. As important as it is to understand what is unfolding, it's more important to have the ability to stop things before they go too far. You can pay all the attention you want while driving a car, but if your brake lines are cut, you're in for some trouble.
According to Houston police, around the 30-minute mark, Live Nation agreed to cut the show short. This was in response to security guards stating, “He’s not having a pulse" and "There’s like four people out here without a pulse." However, the festival raged on for another 30 minutes. It is unclear if Mr. Scott understood what was occurring, as he was performing a show. What is clear is that someone at Live Nation was cognizant of the situation and failed to do what was necessary in managing it. When managing an event of any size it is important to have an emergency break. A set protocol where there is no question for whether to continue. If you do not have control, it is no longer your event, and you are leaving yourself open to unmitigated risk.
Once you have reached the other end of the disaster, your options are limited. At this point it is important to have a response plan and to stick to it. Dealing with a loss of life is extremely difficult and requires a touch of nuance. How Mr. Scott reacted, was less than admirable. In a response posted to Twitter, he apologized for the events that occurred and committed to helping those affected. He also posted a short apology video on his Instagram story. While his responses were in good nature, posting on Twitter and Instagram about the deaths of your concert attendees is a poor way to manage backlash. As these are quick and cheap forms of communication, they cheapen your remarks. To make this point clearer, if you look at Travis Scott's Instagram you will find no mention of these events, as his apology was posted on his story, a feature that expires 24 hours after posting. To those families suffering the losses of loved ones, it feels as though he never really cared.