About The Who Concert Tragedy Task Force Report

On December 3, 1979, eleven concert ticketholders in a crowd of 8,000 to 10,000, or perhaps more, were crushed to death and scores were injured trying to enter a sold-out rock concert by The Who in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

The rowdy British band, enjoying the height of popularity, had returned to the city for its first concert since 1975, at Cincinnati Riverfront Coliseum (now know as Firstar Center). Electric Factory Concerts from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was the promoter.

For more than 14,000 fans—out of approximately 18,500 the only viewing options inside the Coliseum were festival seating (standing room) or general admission (unreserved seats). That is why thousands of loyal Who fans came to the concert hours early to stand in the chilled wintry evening. They knew that the best concert viewing positions would be up for grabs once the doors opened. Anticipation ran high as the friendly crowd amassed.

Besides the forced competition among fans that festival seating brought to the event other crowd safety lapses would appear on December 3. The situation was made worse by, among other things, an absence of communication between event organizers, security and the waiting crowd; a lack of crowd management of any kind, including queuing; and, a refusal by those in charge to respond to a police call to open a sufficient number of main entrance doors to relieve the festering crowd crushing.

When the main entrance doors finally opened close to the time the Who were to take the stage, many eyewitnesses claimed that only one or two main entrance doors, from among a broad bank of doors, were opened to handle the massive crowd. Fans near the front, watched in horror as these doors were opened, then shut, then opened, then shut yet again, and so on. When the doors did open, ticketholders pressed forward. When the doors were shut, people were smashed against each other and the building by the thousands of fans behind them who did not know the main entrance was closed. Deadly crowd surges and rippling human waves of pressure knocked people down and rendered them helplessly trapped and fighting for breath and escape. (Crowd mis-management at Coliseum rock concerts was nothing new, but nothing compared to this.)

Ron Duristch--one of the many Who fans caught in the crowd--describes the horror of the hellish situation:

"A wave swept me to the left and when I regained my stance I felt that I was standing on someone. The helplessness and frustration of this moment sent a wave of panic through me. I screamed with all my strength that I was standing on someone. I couldn't move. I could only scream. Another wave came and pushed me further left towards the door. I felt my leg being pulled to the right. The crowd shifted again and I reached down and grabbed an arm at my leg. I struggled for awhile and finally pulled up a young girl who also had a young boy clinging to her limbs. They were barely conscious and their faces were filled with tears."

Following the tragedy, the City of Cincinnati immediately established a citizen committee, The Task Force on Crowd Control and Safety, to research and recommend ways to make future concerts safe at Riverfront Coliseum and at other city venues.

The task force's report, Crowd Management, was submitted on July 8, 1980, and remains a landmark document in the field of crowd management. Praised as being concise and balanced, the report’s recommendations won the respect of public safety professionals from around the world. Many of the task force suggestions became incorporated into legislation and public assembly planning in the United States.

The nine member group, plus its staff, spent six months preparing the more than 90 page document
"A meticulous report..."
Robert Palmer, The New York Times
and its more than 100 recommendations. Task force members traveled across the United States seeking advice and insight from leading concert and crowd management experts. At the same time, the task force met twice a week for approximately four months interviewing experts and important sources, reviewing hundreds of pages of materials, and debating the issues before them.

More than twenty years later, Crowd Management: The Report of the Task Force on Crowd Control and Safety, is still required reading for anyone aspiring to enter the crowd management field, and for those already plying the trade.

As a public service, Crowd Management Strategies has reproduced the task force report in its entirety. For further reading about the Who concert tragedy visit the Crowdsafe Library.

A list of the Who concert dead, below. (Portaits top right)

  • Jacqueline L. Eckerle, 15 (went to the concert with her friend, Karen Morrison)
  • Karen L. Morrison, 15 (see above)
  • Bryan J. Wagner, 17 (went to the concert with his brother)
  • Peter Douglas Bowes, 18
  • David J. Heck, 19 (went to the concert with a friend)
  • Stephen McGhee Preston, 19 (went to the concert with friends)
  • Phillip K. Snyder, 20
  • Connie Sue Burns, 21 (mother of two; went to the concert with her husband)
  • Walter H. Adams, Jr., 22
  • James Theodore Warmoth, 21
  • Teva Rae Ladd, 27 (mother of two)

Crowd Management: Report of the Task Force on Crowd Control and Safety Table Contents

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