SXSW festival goers urged to look out for safety violations

The Austin Fire Department is getting ready for the South by Southwest Conference and Festivals by conducting some final safety checks at downtown venues. 

As people from all over the world flock to Austin for the festivals, downtown bar owners are preparing for big sales and large crowds, but Battalion Chief Rolando Rodriguez said it’s important to keep an eye on how many people are in each establishment. 

“We look at overcrowding as one of the main issues we encounter during SXSW,” Rodriguez said.  

Before the festivals even begin, the Austin Fire Department visits about 120 downtown venues to check safety equipment and remind business owners about proper protocols. 

“We walk around the establishment, look for any fire hazards, any storage of flammables or combustibles,” said Rodriguez.  

Bob Woody owns about 20 businesses downtown, making him very familiar with the process. 

“I go through a lot of inspections regularly,” Woody said.  

He said his staff to keeps count of the number of people going in, so the venue doesn't unintentionally exceed capacity.                 

“Here it's 600 people. During SXSW, we'll be at 600,” said Woody referencing his bar, the Blind Pig Pub.  

Rodriguez said in 2018 there were 11 citations written for overcrowding and two venues were even temporarily shut down because of it. 

“We work with them as much as we can, but, at one point if we're not getting cooperation and they're not working with us, then, yes, we do have the authority to close them down,” Rodriguez said.  

Other violations from 2018 included unpermitted events, locked or blocked exits and using fireworks without a permit.
The fire department encourages customers to keep an eye out for any issues that could be dangerous. 

“Look around and see how crowded it is, know you're way in and out, how many exits, you might only have one exit for each establishment,” said Rodriguez.  

Violations can be reported to 3-1-1 so the fire department can check it out. 

Woody said those who want to make it inside to see a particular artist during SXSW, should plan to show up hours in advance. If that's not an option, a good rule of thumb is to watch the line. 

“If it's moving, get in it. If it's not, go find something else to take a look at,” Woody said.