Researcher: It is incredible that security at Roskilde Festival works really well

Security at Roskilde Festival depends to a large extent on volunteers. This ought to pose a risk, however, it doesn’t seem to be the case, concludes a new study co-authored by a CBS professor.


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Year after year, Roskilde Festival hosts around 85,000 festival-goers and 3,000 artists which requires high-level security.

In fact, there has not been a major accident at the largest festival in Northern Europe since the one in 2000 where 9 people died at a Pearl Jam concert.

Actually, it is quite remarkable that Roskilde Festival is able to take such good care of the vast amount of happy festival-goers during large and often extremely intense concerts, says Morten Thanning Vendelø, Professor with special responsibilities (mso) at the Department of Organization at CBS:

”The voluntary security guards at Roskilde Festival are not permanently present, so being able to maintain a high level of security is quite incredible,” he says.

Other organisations working intensively with security such as drilling rig operators, fire and rescue services and emergency rooms at hospitals have professionalised their security efforts, basing them on routines and procedures followed meticulously by their employees who receive constant training.

”However, non-permanent organisations with a changing workforce have a much greater need to guide and instruct the volunteers, increasing the alertness and mindfulness required to ensure people are not crushed or hurt in a mosh pit,” explains Morten Thanning Vendelø.

Festival security pitfalls

In a new study published in the journal Safety Science, Morten Thanning Vendelø and Claus Rerup, researcher at Frankfurt School of Finance in Germany, have looked into the concept of mindfulness when working with security at Roskilde Festival compared to permanent organisations.

Morten Thanning Vendelø and Claus Rerup point to three problems which may occur when security depends on volunteers:

  1. The authority of management can be challenged. Some volunteers might be inclined to get their own ideas on how to organise the security efforts. This could pose a challenge to leaders as it may result in opposing approaches to the security work.
  2. Stagnation of methods. Safety procedures for the volunteers in charge of crowd safety may fail to be renewed, for instance if an accident has taken place years ago and outdated security systems are still in use, or experience may not be passed on to new volunteers.
  3. Third party interference. If someone outside the security organisation interferes in security decisions without knowing the consequences, it might cause a threat to an otherwise safe festival.

A clear narrative and division of roles = improved security

Morten Thanning Vendelø wore the distinctive orange vest himself in 2008, 2009 and 2011 while conducting field studies as a volunteer Crowd Safety Steward during the festival.

”I did not experience any critical situations apart from when I pulled people over the fence if they felt sick or squashed,” he explains.

Generally, the security hierarchy at the festival is extremely clear and can be divided into four categories: Head of Safety (management), Crowd Safety Managers (middle managers), Crowd Safety Supervisors (organisers of volunteers) and Crowd Safety Stewards (volunteers).

According to Morten Thanning Vendelø, this hierarchy in fact helps Roskilde Festival to ensure a safe environment for the large amount of colourful festival-goers:

”Roskilde Festival is excellent at defining clear roles and expectations of the different categories of volunteers working with crowd safety. They get very specific briefings on what to do if a problem occurs and how they contact the audience,” he says and adds:  

”So Roskilde Festival succeeds in ensuring a safe concert experience because they excel in explaining the job assignments clearly, share their experiences from yesterday’s concerts and nudge the volunteers and the audience, so they know exactly where to stand.”

How to increase security in an organisation

According to Morten Thanning Vendelø and Claus Rerup, five points should be considered when working with security in an organisation:

  1. Learn from your mistakes: Be aware of potential problems and learn from critical situations.
  2. Pass on your experience: Passing on experience is vital. If your organisation is temporary like that of a festival, security courses for volunteers are an option.
  3. Be aware: Consider the consequences of changing a procedure very carefully. On the other hand, it is important to be up to date and modernise your work routines based on the most recent knowledge. 
  4. Be flexible: Being able to remain calm under pressure and have a flexible approach to crisis management is important.
  5. Respect the remit of others and stay in your zone: Do as you are told by your superior. Never voice your dissatisfaction to your superior during a crisis – do it afterwards.

The researchers’ analysis showed that everyone was familiar with all five points, however, the upper levels being more aware of them than the lower levels.

The page was last edited by: Communications // 02/07/2020