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Event security is rexamined after last week's deadly crush of fans in Houston

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Public safety officials around the country are now re-evaluating how they manage large crowds. This after nine people were killed and dozens injured near the stage at Travis Scott's concert in Houston. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Travis Scott cancelled and won't be performing as planned this weekend at a hip-hop festival in Las Vegas. Even so, Las Vegas police this week held a planning exercise, reviewing how they would respond to emergencies there, including a crowd surge. Police Captain Roxanne Burke told FOX 5 in Las Vegas they're paying special attention to the area in front of the stage.

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ROXANNE BURKE: Our grounds and around our stages, we have the barricades that are there that can't be pushed over or toppled over. We have a lot of open space. And we have made sure that there's an immediate emergency egress if anything happens near that stage.

ALLEN: In Orlando, where a large electronic dance music festival is happening this weekend, the police department won't share details but says it, quote, "monitors trends" and will make adjustments as needed. At a concert with so-called festival seating - an open area with no assigned seats - security experts say monitoring and managing the crowd in front of the stage is always a major concern.

PAUL WERTHEIMER: It's like a roller coaster without brakes.

ALLEN: Paul Wertheimer helped develop safety standards for concerts and other large events, including guidelines on managing crowds. He says when the density of crowds at concerts exceeds those standards, promoters and their security personnel often look the other way.

WERTHEIMER: When it comes to crowds at rock concerts, there are no brakes and there is no safety net most of the time.

ALLEN: Standards established by the National Fire Protection Association require several square feet of space around each person so that emergency personnel can get in and crowd members can freely come and go. Craig Skilling, who teaches event management at Florida International University, says you can do that with a proper fencing design and by keeping a close eye on the crowd.

CRAIG SKILLING: You want to make sure you have the right amount of individuals in there and then the right amount of security professionals that are working to be able to control the space.

ALLEN: At the Astroworld show in Houston, police say it was up to the promoter and the security company to manage the crowd in front of the stage but that its staffing records are, quote, "just not good." Steven Adelman is a security consultant and vice president of Event Safety Alliance, the industry's trade group. He says while standards for managing crowds are helpful, each event has its own risk profile. He says there was nothing typical or normal about the event in Houston and that it's too early to say what went wrong.

STEVEN ADELMAN: Was there something that was significantly different about the crowd management than at other similar shows? That's going to be part of what everybody is investigating. We don't know that right now.

ALLEN: Among the questions still to be answered in Houston is why after the crowd surged and the first reports of casualties was there a lengthy delay in stopping the show? Houston police say it wasn't up to them but with the show's producer. Steven Allen, an event safety consultant based in the U.K., thinks that will be one of the changes that will come out of this tragedy. Working with rock promoters, he's developed procedures for quickly stopping a show and getting control of a crowd when necessary. He says it requires close communication between the artist's team, security staff and production personnel.

STEVEN ALLEN: Because if you stop the show, the light designer is going to put white light on the crowd. All the fancy lights and strobes and lasers stop; white light immediately. And that grips their attention. All the sound is killed, apart from the performer’s microphone.

ALLEN: Along with a police investigation, there are calls for an independent review by an outside agency of what went wrong in Houston. Texas' governor says he's appointing a task force that will make recommendations on how to improve safety and security at live music events. Greg Allen, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF WINTER FLAGS' "MAKE YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.