In a perfect world, you shouldn’t have to worry about safety at a concert or festival – you’re there to have fun, says Paul Wertheimer, who founded his consulting firm, Crowd Management Strategies, after a deadly crowd surge at a 1979 concert by The Who in Cincinnati.
“When you go to events, you expect to be safe. It’s not your job to be a fire marshal, medic, safety expert,” Wertheimer says. “You have a right to assume that your safety is being looked after.”
But as Astroworld showed, people can die at concerts when masses of people begin pushing toward the stage or the exits.
As more music festivals gear up this weekend and beyond, we asked two experts for tips on how best to protect yourself.
Before attending a festival or concert:
- Wear sneakers, gym shoes or high tops – footwear that reduces your chances of slipping and can help you navigate through crowds. “You need stability on your feet if you need to exit quickly,” Wertheimer says.
- Don’t wear expensive jewelry or anything you’ll regret losing in a packed, standing-room environment. It’s easily torn off.
- If you’re wearing jeans or pants, put your phone, money and other essential items in your front pockets. That way they’re less likely to fall out or get stolen.
- Eat properly before or at the event, and make sure you’re hydrated with water.
- Carry an ID and any prescription medication you may need with you.
- If accompanied by a child, write your phone number on their arm or on a bracelet in case you get separated.
When you’re at a crowded event:
- Don’t drink too much and lose a sense of your surroundings.
- Visualize an escape plan if something goes wrong. Know where the exits are. “Conventional wisdom says take the closest exit, but that doesn’t always work at concerts because that’s where the crush is. You want to know where all exits are because exits farther away may be better. You don’t want to follow the crowd surge going one route,” Wertheimer said.
- Stay on the outer edges of large crowds to reduce your chances of getting caught in a crush.
- Avoid the mosh pit. “Once you enter such a crowd, you no longer have control over your environment. How you move, for instance, is no longer dictated by how you want to move, but rather, how the crowd is moving you,” says Rami Hashish, a body performance and injury expert.
- If a piece of your jewelry falls to the ground, think twice about getting down to look for it – you can get trampled. Necklaces can also harm you when they get entangled with other things during a crowd surge.
- If you find yourself in the middle of a dense crowd, protect your head and stay on your feet. “Upwards of 60% of injuries in mosh pits are to the head – these can range in severity from a bump or bruise to a traumatic brain injury. And can be the result of flailing arms, getting pushed into another person, or falling to the ground,” Hashish says.
- To stay balanced in a packed crowd and also protect your heart and lungs from pressure, put your arms up and strike a pose like a boxer.
If you find yourself in a crowd surge:
- Conserve your oxygen – Don’t yell or scream. No one can hear you and you’re giving up vital oxygen, Wertheimer says. Once you deplete your oxygen, your chances of fainting are higher and once you hit the ground, you’re trapped.
- Conserve your energy – Don’t fight a crowd surge – you can’t resist thousands of pounds of pressure. As much as you can, move with the crowd, not against it. If you use up your energy, you’ll likely end up in the same position as someone who’s lost their oxygen – unconscious.
- If you fall to the ground, get in the fetal position – Make sure your left side is on the ground – that way, you’re protecting your heart and lungs as best as you can. They’re farthest away from the crush in that position, Wertheimer says. “If you fall on your stomach or back, people will fall on you, and you can suffocate.” Use your arms and hands to protect your head.
Most importantly, trust your instincts, experts say. If you feel a crowd is getting too rowdy or tightly packed, that’s your cue to head to the fringes, or leave, before things get out of control.