New Report Urges South by Southwest to Rethink Safety Policies

New Report Urges South by Southwest to Rethink Safety Policies
Following a tragic car crash that left four dead and more than 20 injured at this year's event, a new report examining South by Southwest's safety policies has surfaced.

Commissioned by festival organizers and carried out by event consulting firm Populous, the report (obtained by the Austin American-Statesman) outlines a number of concerns about safety planning for the week-long festival.

An issue of top concern is the pop-up parties and shows that have become a regular occurrence on the streets of Austin during SXSW, with organizers pointing to the large crowds and free booze associated with the "splinter" events as problems.

In hopes to make the downtown Austin crowds more manageable and avoid another tragedy, the report suggests that SXSW impose limits on unofficial events, prioritizing their own and restricting the pop-up parties and surprise shows that have become a defining and beloved characteristic of the festival. The report suggests a "Clean Zone" in which official events would be properly prepared to handle crowds and the festival's brand would be protected.

Noting "Unruly behaviour, inability to access events and activities, and unsafe conditions" as problems with the unofficial gigs and gatherings, the report concludes:

If SXSW cannot sustain success and growth in the future, like any business they will eventually need to make decisions about whether or not they can continue to exist in their current format and location. It is very possible that SXSW will have no choice but to entertain notions of bidding their event to other cities to sustain their business model.

The city of Austin also released a safety report last month, which cited excessive alcohol consumption and packed venues as priority issues and criticized the spontaneous nature of events that fail to provide venues with advanced lists of performers. "Many times an internationally-known celebrity will draw huge crowds to venues with no safety plan," the city's report reads.

Organizers are hesitant, however, to impose strict bans on the non-sanctioned events that have contributed to SXSW's success over the years. Speaking about a possible ban on the pop-up events, festival co-founder and managing director Roland Swenson told the Austin American-Statesman, "SXSW is so tied up in Austin and we reflect each other so much that I can't really imagine that happening."

He continued, "Our fear is that we're just not going to be able to do it anymore because of all of these different factors that are emerging and growing out of control."

Searching attendees for prohibited items upon venue entry and banning buskers during the festival were also proposed as precautionary measures.

This year's music festival runs from March 17 to 22 in Austin, TX, though there's no word yet on when the city's transformation into the small town from Footloose will be complete.