ASTROWORLD TRAGEDY: Crowd safety expert critical of new agreement, HFD chief pushes back

HOUSTON – A crowd safety expert offered a scathing review of the local government’s reaction to the Astroworld event.

“For 40 years, I’ve been involved in the debate and the creation of crowds safety on municipal levels and national level standards. I’ve never seen a response like this in which, in the end, nobody’s doing anything any different to prevent another crowd disorder,” Paul Wertheimer, the CEO of Crowd Management Strategies, said.

“That’s right. I’ve never seen in the United States more inept handling. I’ve seen better. I’ve seen some that are mediocre. But I have never seen a full court press from the governor’s office to the mayor’s office, from Abbott to Turner, to prevent any substantive change after young people died and maybe 1,000 were injured,” Wertheimer said.

HFD’s 2016 Special Events Planning Guide

In 2016, an assistant chief who is no longer with the Houston Fire Department helped craft a special events planning guide that assigned, in stepped increments, necessary emergency equipment for events.

The plan established a baseline for necessary safety precautions and who would be in charge of what, requiring active participation by the Houston Fire Department, in some circumstances.

“What I’m told is when they put this together, the city basically threw it in the trash,” Patrick Lancton, President of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, said.

Lancton said the document never received the necessary ordinance support to put it into effect.

HFD, Chief Pena Response

  • For clarification, the Houston Fire Department was not hired or contracted to provide first aid, BLS, or Paramedic service for any Astroworld event. The promoters coordinated all aspects of the event and provided contractors for those functions without our input.
  • To answer your first highlighted question: The document you sent as an attachment was a draft prepared under the previous administration. It was either not presented to that administration or rejected by them. Either way, that document has never been presented to me for consideration.
  • The HFD Special Events section has established policy and a planning file we use, in conjunction with MOSE, to prepare for events that we have operational control over. The elements of the Event Action Plan, resource allocation, Incident Command Assignments, contingency planning, etc., are driven by the materials in our planning documents. That process has been followed by our Special Events group in preparation for events such as the Houston Marathon, the Pride Week events, the baseball championship series, the World Series, the World Petroleum Conference, numerous parades, etc.
  • To answer your second highlighted question: Certificates of Occupancy are issued by the Building Department/ Official for buildings/occupancies based on their anticipated use, not outdoor open-air venues.
  • In response to your last comments: Despite your opinion that the new Interlocal Agreement (ILA) with NRG does nothing new, with this agreement, events with an anticipated attendance of 6,000 or more that are held outdoors at NRG, will now be required to have an occupancy established for the event based on the established footprint of the event grounds
  • Other New requirements in the ILA: 1) promoters must coordinate with HPD and HFD during the development of the Event Action Plan from the beginning 2) senior representative from event/promoter must be physically in the Incident Command Post with PD and FD commanders. 3) Unified Command will be maintained for events regulated by the ILA. 4) security plans and medical plans, must be presented and reviewed by HFD and HPD for events regulate by the ILA. 4) MOSE must review for events regulated by the ILA.

I will defer to the opinions and recommendations from Steve Adelman, the expert that we used to assist us in developing the Interlocal Agreement, on whether the requirements we’ve implemented with the ILA will help reduce the risk of future incidents.

To learn more about Mr. Adelman, please see the link: