Last Updated: Wednesday, February 01, 2017

On The Fifth Anniversary Of The Roskilde Festival Tragedy, Organizers Face New Crowd Safety Criticism
Updated: Sunday, July 03, 2005

You and the Festival Crowd, the most widely distributed crowd safety guidance for spectators in the world. The multi-language pamphlet was produced by Crowd Management Strategies for the Roskilde Festival, following the 2000 tragedy. Photo: CMS c 2002

In 2000, nine young men were crushed to death at the beginning of the Pearl Jam set at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. Scores of fans, along with a whole nation, were traumatized.

The tragedy, one of the worst European music festival disasters, became the center of a Danish government investigation, outraged the Danish public and became a warning to European festival organizers to clean up their events.

England’s competing Glastonbury Festival was canceled that year in fear that it might end in similar tragedy, when organizer Michael Eavis failed to produce a reasonable crowd safety plan.

At the time, the Roskilde Festival was run by its longtime manager Lief Skov. He, Pearl Jam and the Roskilde police took the brunt of criticism that followed the tragedy. Crowd Management Strategies was among the most vocal critics of those who failed to protect festivalgoers.

Such promises as those made by Mr. Skov are often heard after major concert disasters or near-disasters. In this case, Mr. Skov kept his word and instituted major crowd safety improvements that were in place for the 2001 festival. At the same time, the Danish Ministry of Culture produced a valuable report that addressed the festival tragedy and made a number of important recommendations. These accomplishments helped the Roskilde Festival win a 2002 Crowdsafe® Award. Mr. Skov resigned his position after 2001.

Since then, the new festival regime appears to have moved away from the high standards set by Mr. Skov. This year, that perception became the subject of an investigative story by the Danish newspaper B.T. A series of articles written by journalist Niels C. Svanborg appeared this week, in advance of the start of this year’s Roskilde Festival (June 30 – July 3). Mr. Svansborg found, among other things, that two weeks before the festival was to begin, the risk assessment plan had not been approved by the Roskilde police. It was not approved until Friday.

A risk assessment plan is used to determine, among other things, potential safety dangers that are likely to be present at a public event. Once identified by organizers, they are expected to outline how those dangers will be mitigated. If that is done, the event is approved. It is a pivotal part of a crowd management plan. For a risk assessment to have value it must be completed in ample time for the proper authorities to review it and make necessary revisions. The authority in this case is the Roskilde Police.

The journalist also found that the risk assessment itself was, in part, amateurish, practically a copy of previous plans and on certain topics non-responsive to contemporary Roskilde Festival problems. These were also the findings of Crowd Management Strategies’ Paul Wertheimer, who reviewed sections of the risk assessment plan for B.T.

For example, Mr. Wertheimer noted that the plan did not address last year’s three festival rapes, alcohol and drug management or artist profiles of the performers who will appear this year. One festivalgoer died at Roskilde in 2004.

Nowhere in the Roskilde Festival 2005 risk assessment is there any mention of heightened security or improved public information campaigns to help protect female festivalgoers. However, there is mention on the Roskilde Festival website about totally nude male running races.

As for artist profiles, which help authorities better understand the temperament of performers and their past histories, such information is vital to understanding their audiences and the type of crowd activities that are likely to occur. This is important for crowd management planning.

The Roskilde Festival risk assessment plan does not include this information. Roskilde Festival organizers told Mr. Svanborg that if police want to see this information they can make an appointment. The organizers refused to allow B.T. to review their file on artists. Something that should be public information.

So what have Roskilde Festival organizers remembered about the the 2000 tragedy? Apparently not enough. Many of the concert security managers, whose qualifications have always been suspect, have somehow kkept their jobs. This is part of the problem along with failed leadership. The festival would probably be better off if Mr. Skov were still heading it. He transformed the Roskilde Festival and made it the safest festival in Europe in 2001. Roskilde cannot claim that title today.

The lesson of the Roskilde Festival, is the lesson of all communities that, following a local tragedy, fail to set in place laws and standards by which to regulate events like Denmark’s biggest rock festival. Live entertainment Industry self-impose guidance never works. In Denmark, America, England and the rest of the world, the live entertainment industry will literally always put profit before safety, if given the option.

The Danish government should revisit the Roskilde Festival tragedy and finish the excellent work it started half a decade ago. Danish officials have shown they have the resources and ability to do just that.

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