South by Southwest Crash.

Austin, Texas.

March 13, 2014, 12:31 am

By Devin Greaney

For ESCI 3100

April, 2016 


The crash site minutes after the disaster. An Austin American-Statesman photojournalist was at the Mowhak Club shooting photos when the accident occurred. Photo by Jay Janner, Austin American-Statesman.


When a car crashed into Austin, Texas' biggest annual event, resources were strained as police, fire, EMS, hospitals and festival goers pulled together to get help for 25 casualties that covered two city blocks and all took place in the span of about 20 seconds. This paper will look on the preparation and response recovery and future mitigation of this crash that stunned both Austin and the music world. 

South By Southwest (SXSW) began as a music festival in Austin, Texas in March, 1987.  To capitalize on the city that calls itself the "Live Music Capital of the World" a  music festival  for unsigned bands was a natural fit. The festival has grown every year  going beyond just unsigned bands making mid March Greater Austin's busiest time of the year. In 1994  the festival added a film and interactive/ multimedia component drawing even more interest and people.  ( SXSW: 2014)

What has also grown significantly is Greater Austin. (SXSW 2014) The metro area in the 2000 census had a  population of 1.25 million. In 2014 the estimate was 1.94 million. All area agencies- police, fire, EMS and hospitals- in addition to the day to day job of keeping people safe, training and creating a progressive emergency management system, public safety agencies here more than most places have had to manage the challenges of a ballooning population. ( Robinson: 2016) 

On March 13, 2014  at 12:30 am, the temperature was 50 degrees, there was no rain and a slight breeze ( Weather Underground). Music lovers were out enjoying the music, weather and liquid refreshments. The veteran rock band “X” was close to finishing  at the Mohawk Club at 10th and Red River. About a minute later  the 27-year-old festival would experience its darkest moment. 

Thursday March 13, 2014, 12:30 am

Austin Police Department attempted to stop a car driven by Rashad Owens heading south on the  frontage road of I-35 during a saturation for DUI. Owens then pulled into a gas station at the northwest corner of 9th and I 35 acting like he was going to comply with the police. Dash cam video show the clock changing to 12:31 am when Owens sped off westbound on East 9th, then turned immediately north on Red River and crashed through a barricade set up to make the street pedestrian only. ( KXAN: 2014) 

Roberto Villalpando, Robert Calzada .Austin American Statesman

After crashing through barricades, the car sped through two blocks hitting 24 people, some being thrown in the air. The car raced on crashing at 11th and Red River, and then police gave chase on foot, quickly stunning the suspect with a taser device and arresting him.The entire  incident from when Owens decided to take off to when he crashed lasted 37 seconds. Two of those struck were dead on the scene, two others would die at the hospital in the days following. Owens was also briefly hospitalized after the accident giving Austin police, fire and EMS a total of 25 patients. (KXAN: 2014) 


Austin public safety had years of experience to learn that SXSW would be big. Among the 9 days in 2014, 85,469 registered to attend the conferences - music, film and interactive- but many others not registered descended on the Capital City to attend one or more of the activities. ( SXSW: 2014). Recent figures by the organizers estimates it and directly and indirectly brings about $317 million into the area economy with visitors from around the world. (Swiatecki: 2015)

 A press conference just a few hours after the incident confirmed that exercises were staged imagining a mass traffic accident as part of getting prepared for the festival. This way public safety agencies and the hospitals  were all on board as to what to do and who would be in charge. "This is an example of collaboration, coordination and  a lot of training between fire, police and EMS," said Austin Fire Chief of staff Harry Evans  (KXAN: 2014) 

"We train for the MCI events and the mass casualty events we have pre planned  for every big events like this," James Shamard, chief of staff of Austin Travis County EMS said in the morning press conference.  "When the crews show up in the middle of the day we review the plan for how we're going to handle the typical patient but also the mass situation even if it were to happen." (KXAN: 2104) 

Another form of preparation came through technology that even the most forward-thinking SXSW attendee of the festival's early days would have trouble imagining.  Austin public safety agencies created a SXSW "Geo Fence" to make the area into its own emergency district,  almost a city within a city. Below is a map that shows the area. Commander Michael Benavides, public information officer of ATCEMS, explained the system. "When a call came in via 911 it would be routed to our normal EMS communications center. Once the incident was determined to be inside the event footprint, one of our communications medics would process (triage) the call while the second would dispatch the closest appropriate response resource. They were working in tandem with each other in order to minimize the dispatch time." 

Let's say someone made a 911 call for a chest pain at Barton Creek Square Mall which is outside of the geo fence area. The call would route to the 911 call center, the primary answering point, and the call taker would forward to the ATCEMS communications medic/ dispatcher there in the same building to give instructions to the caller and dispatch the closest available ambulance.  But if a call came in from East 6th and Brazos,  within the perimeter set up for the event, the call taker would enter the location or it would pop up on the screen in the computer aided dispatch system,  a flashing alert would inform the call taker it was within the SXSW geo fence. The call would be who sent to another communications medic  set up at the Event Operations (EvOC) Center. That communications medic would send the closest and most appropriate-based on the nature of the call- asset to the patient. In addition those public safety agencies assigned to the geo fence were on their own talkgroups. ( Benavides: 2016) 

Commander Bendavides, said within the geo fence of the area the agency had staffed two medics on motorcycles to quickly reach patients, Two medic response units were on Polaris Rangers, which are smaller ambulances and designed to quickly evacuate patients to the  casualty collection point for assessment. If the patient decides to go to the hospital then one of the  two ambulances  transports, then  returns to the casualty collection point.