#101Wednesdays: Accident at Backstreet Boys concert underscores need to prioritize life safety at live events

Blog Post created by rsolomon Employee on Aug 29, 2018

One of the newsletters I subscribe to comes from Steve Adelman, a Phoenix-based lawyer who specializes in venue and event safety. Steve did a “hot take” video on the entrance structure collapse that occurred at the WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Oklahoma, on August 18. The outdoor venue was set to host a Backstreet Boys concert that evening. This video analysis was based on the most fundamental pieces of information, is not the final story, and is derived from venue statements and social media accounts. The WinStar Twitter feed provided the following account of events.


"At 5:00 p.m., WinStar World Casino and Resort officials began evacuation of the outdoor concert venue after observing that lightning was within four miles of the casino. All patrons in the area were asked to move and to seek shelter from the storm. However, about 150 patrons who were standing in line for the Backstreet Boys concert did not heed staff’s warnings. 

At approximately 5:30 p.m., the storm hit and knocked over the concert entrance trusses with 70-80 mile an hour winds and heavy rain. 14 people were treated at the scene and then transported to local hospitals. Two have already been released. 

Love County emergency responders, Lighthorse Police, and Oklahoma Highway Patrol are on scene.

We know that fans often suffer through inclement weather for their favorite acts, but this was an unusual event and our thoughts are with those who were injured during this storm."

The good news is the 14 patrons sent to the hospital were all discharged by the next day, and the resort had a plan and a contingency for such events that was executed in a timely manner. But what circumstances kept 150 people from leaving the area to go to a more protected area after the warning was issued? Steve’s initial thoughts connect the reluctance to relocate to the fact that some of the seating was general admission of a standing section (or what NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, calls festival seating) of the venue. In other words, some patrons had been waiting a long time to get into the venue. Again, from the WinStar Twitter feed: 


"We thought WE loved @backstreetboys. These fans have been waiting since 1AM!!!!! Only a few more hours to go.... #WinStarLive"


Human and occupant behaviors are sometimes tricky to predict. In this case, fans waited a long time to secure a prime spot in the standing section of the venue. Perhaps the desire of the approximately 150 individuals to get the best spot trumped their concerns for personal safety. In assembly occupancies, the Life Safety Evaluation (LSE) contained in NFPA 101 can help event organizers with this challenge. The LSE is a powerful tool that assists venue operators in identifying and addressing a wide range of scenarios, hazards, and crowd behaviors. The following are 10 broad conditions in the LSE. Those underlined have direct utility to this event. 


(1) Nature of the events and the participants and attendees

(2) Access and egress movement, including crowd density problems

(3) Medical emergencies

(4) Fire hazards

(5) Permanent and temporary structural systems

(6) Severe weather conditions

(7) Earthquakes

(8) Civil or other disturbances

(9) Hazardous materials incidents within and near the facility

(10) Relationships among facility management, event participants, emergency response agencies, and others having a role in the events accommodated in the facility


Here are some thoughts on the items noted.

(1) In this case, the nature of the event included being outdoors and attendees showing up very early and waiting.

(2) Access issues included certain admission tickets being standing only. First to get in would get a good spot.

(5) Temporary structures had been set up as part of the event.

(6) Severe weather was detected.

(10) The venue appears to have had a plan that was executed, including an immediate and appropriate response to the event and working to communicate follow-up information. 


Other considerations involving the LSE are in the annex of the code. These include ingress patterns, ticketing/seating policies, duration of the event, and occupants’ commitments to the event. The list of concerns for completing the LSE are wide-ranging by default and for good reason. 


The code also considers these types of occupant characteristics as it relates to performance-based design. One of those attributes states "Commitment—degree to which occupant is committed to an activity underway before the alarm." A report from the Fire Protection Research Foundation in 2012 actually looked at how widespread and diverse non-fire emergencies are in assembly occupancies. In many cases, the personal “commitment” to the event was oftentimes an influencing factor in the outcome. Assembly occupancies can accommodate a range of events, can be inside or outside, and can be influenced by countless factors.


Going out for a night of entertainment should be fun, relaxing, and safe. Quoting a popular Backstreet Boys song, "I want it that way."