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Do we need better procedures for severe weather at concerts?

A severe hailstorm Wednesday injured nearly 100 attendees of a Louis Tomlinson concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater outside Denver.
Do we need better procedures for severe weather at concerts?
Posted at 7:27 PM, Jun 23, 2023

Music fans across the country are gearing up for a full slate of outdoor summer festivals and concerts — but there's one thing concert-goers can't always prepare for: Mother Nature.

A severe hailstorm Wednesday injured nearly 100 attendees of a Louis Tomlinson concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater outside Denver.

"All of a sudden people started like running. They were tripping over each other. We were trying to run forever," said a concertgoer.

The concert for the British pop musician was eventually canceled — but not before seven people were transported to hospitals with "non-life-threatening injuries." The local fire department said other injuries included cuts and broken bones, and attendees inside the venue described the ten-minute storm as "apocalyptic."

Several said they were trapped with no clear shelter at the venue.

"When I heard about the debacle at Red Rocks, I thought 'Here we go again,'" said Paul Wertheimer, founder of Crowd Management Strategies.

"You can't hope it misses. You can't hope it's not as bad. You just can't hope, you have to be prepared. And I think this is where we're going to look at this instance and go 'How can we be better?,'" said Kevin Kloesel, weather advisory board chair of the Event Safety Alliance.

Experts like Wertheimer, who specializes in crowd safety, and Kloesel, a meteorologist, say that outdoor concert venues and organizers need to do better to protect attendees from severe weather emergencies.

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Before the concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater, the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area. Experts predicted extreme winds, hail and tornadoes.

"There's this mentality, in my opinion, of 'Let's just try to make it through the night,'" Wertheimer said. "They played that Russian Roulette game with the safety of the fans, and the fans lost."

Wertheimer says the concert venue, which is owned and operated by the City and County of Denver and the concert promoters, Live Nation Entertainment, should have better informed concert-goers of the extreme weather conditions and provided a more thorough emergency weather plan in advance.

Live Nation Entertainment said in a statement: "We are thankful to first responders and Louis Tomlinson’s team who personally helped get fans to safety and exit the venue."

A spokesperson from the company noted that the Red Rocks Amphitheater is not owned or operated by Live Nation Entertainment.

A city spokesman told the Denver Post the incident was a "once-in-a-lifetime event".

On Twitter, Red Rocks Amphitheater told attendees to seek shelters in their vehicles, but shortly after gave them an "all clear" to return to the amphitheater, and then eventually canceled the concert due to the hailstorm.

"You have to be able to plan for a place to put people. And by just saying 'Go to your cars' or something like that, so many people ride share to our events now," Kloesel said. "They don't have a car."

While there were no severe reported injuries at Red Rocks, safety experts say weather emergencies have long plagued outdoor music events.

"In 2011, there was a disastrous weather-related concert at the Indiana State Fair. Seven people were killed, because they didn't cancel the show in advance," Wertheimer noted. "And actually, just three months ago, another concert was interrupted by a severe storm in Belvidere, IL. One person, a concertgoer, was killed. Scores were injured."

Wertheimer says there needs to be "more pressure on public authorities" and concert promoters to prevent more weather-related disasters, and for fans attending future outdoor concerts, to be mindful of a venue's exits and shelters just in case.

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