Overcoming questions of jurisdiction and permitting that led to the city, county agreement following Astroworld tragedy

HOUSTON – Months after 10 people died during a crowd crush at the Astroworld festival, there was still a back-and-forth over responsibility, authority and permitting for large events at NRG Park.

Emails obtained by KPRC 2 Investigates highlight some of the confusion that had to be overcome when forming a new interlocal agreement between the city and county.

“Historically, that’s been a property that’s very unique,” said Susan Christian, head of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events. “(It) has a lot of bosses, a lot of entities, if you will.”

NRG Park is managed by the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation. Outside of Texans games and team-related events, as well as the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, a question mark remained over jurisdictional authority at the park for the myriad special events held on the property, like the Astroworld Festival.

While NRG is a county-owned facility, it is firmly within the city limits of Houston.

A 2018 agreement that outlined the responsibilities of the city and county fire marshals dealt largely with building inspections, not an emergency, and the police response to events. That agreement noted the city was responsible for inspecting buildings at NRG.

Following the 10 people who died during a crowd crush at the Astroworld Festival, there was a lot of confusion and finger-pointing over who had jurisdiction and authority at NRG.

An email dated Oct. 28, 2022 from Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen obtained by KPRC 2, shows this jurisdictional point wasn’t cleared up until May when she wrote, “In a meeting on 05/17/2022 the task force agreed this was within the city of Houston jurisdiction and the county fire marshal had no authority.”

Christensen had previously stated her office was “mistakenly” accused of not properly permitting the Astroworld Festival.

“What this new interlocal address is responsibility,” said Christensen.

Christensen said another major point brought up during the task force discussion was streamlining the permitting process. In a draft agreement of the interlocal agreement, questions arose from past Astroworld permits where it was noted: “each department was not aware of who had made approvals.”

Christensen said all permits will now first funnel through her office so everyone is on the same page as to what is being requested and what is approved. Christensen noted permit approval is still being completed by respective city departments.

“Now, we will all know, at the same time, what is coming at us and we can properly plan,” said Christensen.

As KPRC 2 Investigates has previously reported, the new interlocal agreement requires the Harris County Fire Marshal, HPD, HFD, NRG managers, along with promoters and producers to meet on a regular basis to plan for upcoming events that involve 6,000 or more attendees.

The Houston police and fire chiefs have to approve security and medical plans for these events, which includes “show-stop” authority. The agreement also allows the city and county to recoup emergency response-related costs from promoters or producers who deviate from approved plans.

“Now, we can make sure our first responders know what that plan looks like ahead of time,” said Christensen.

Christensen said everyone knowing the plan for an event, along with what permits have been issued, will help police, fire and EMS stay ahead of potential trouble.

“I always say don’t wait till 2 o’clock in the morning to get to know somebody, you need to know them before the incident occurs,” said Christensen.

About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”