OPINION: Statewide review of concert safety is needed now

Gov. Greg Abbott made the right call in announcing the formation of the Texas Task Force on Concert Safety in the wake of the tragedy at Astroworld Festival in Houston that left eight concertgoers dead and hundreds of others injured. Events like this are usually associated with big cities like Houston or Dallas, but something like this could happen in Beaumont or Port Arthur too.

These cities also have concerts or festivals that draw thousands of people in front of a stage at one time in a fairly small area. With the right combination of several factors, a surge toward the front could produce the same kinds of dangers.

The governor’s task force is broad-based, and it should provide the input needed from major stakeholders on this issue. It includes the Texas Music Office, Sheriffs’ Association of Texas, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Municipal Police Association, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and Texas State Association of Fire Fighters.

Already some problems have been identified from the Houston tragedy. The Houston Fire Department had a command post nearby, which was helpful, but firefighters didn’t have radio communication with one of the private firms hired to provide medical assistance to any concertgoers. They had to rely on cellphones instead, which weren’t as effective. As the tragedy unfolded, that lack of communication made it harder for firefighters to realize how dire the situation was becoming.

And several hours before the show, a district fire chief asked for permission to reconnoiter the area. But an employee of the private company that provided security for the show declined the request. Public safety should always trump private-sector issues at major events like this.

This is how a tragedy of this magnitude occurs — a series of small decisions that cascade into larger problems, and sometimes, serious injury or death.

This state task force should be able to provide helpful guidelines, but every law enforcement agency and fire department in each city should review its own procedures for these events. Just because they haven’t had problems for years doesn’t mean that their good fortune will continue.

No one thought that this concert by Travis Scott would end the way it did. The collective goal must be to learn from it and try to make sure it never happens again in any city in Texas.