Getting 40,000 people together for three days of music, camping and partying could be a recipe for disaster, but according to the RCMP the inaugural Pemberton Music Festival was a success from a public safety perspective.
RCMP members responded to an average of 12 to 20 incidents per day over the festival, from Thursday evening through to Monday morning. Most incidents were related to alcohol, but there were some drug offences as well.
Overall, RCMP working at the festival were pleased with the crowd.
“Forty-thousand is a lot of people, but given the location in Pemberton we had ample resources on hand to deal with any major incidents of which I’m happy to say we didn’t have any,” said Constable Lea-Anne Dunlop, the communications officer for the RCMP.
“We responded to calls where people were drinking in excess, there were arrests for being drunk in a public place, and some drug related incidents, but overall for 40,000 people things went very well from a public safety point of view. From our perspective, the visible presence of RCMP officers had a role, as when people see police on hand they think twice before doing the things they might do if we weren’t there.”
Cst. Dunlop wouldn’t say how many officers were on site, as she said that information is an operational advantage to the RCMP. She could say that most officers were on the grounds, while others helped direct traffic on the highway.
The primary concern for the RCMP was traffic, said Cst. Dunlop — mostly as concert-goers tried to drop off their gear close to the camping site instead of waiting for shuttles. The RCMP used sirens and lights to keep people moving through those areas, and to ensure people followed the procedure for checking in.
Traffic issues continued through the festival, with delays in the early afternoon as the concert on the festival mainstage got underway. There was also traffic in the evenings, as cars and shuttles headed back south on the highway.
More than 20,000 festival goers camped, which reduced congestion on the highway, but the traffic after the last concert and the following morning was heavy.
If the concert goes ahead next year, Cst. Dunlop says the RCMP will work with other stakeholders to see what can be improved — especially when it comes to keeping the highway open.
“Those are some pretty detailed conversations we need to have with the organizers, but certainly whenever we have an event like this there is an opportunity to learn from it. For the first year of an event, we actually thought things went really well,” she said. “That doesn’t stop us from taking a critical look at the way things did happen on the weekend, and make improvements if and when we’re needed in the future.
“I’d also like to say thank you to all the concertgoers up there that did conduct themselves in a good way, that were up there to enjoy the music. The fact that we didn’t respond to any major incidents is a tribute to the concertgoers.”
While the RCMP had a fairly easy weekend, medical teams were a lot busier, with roughly 250 cases a day. Cases ranged from respiratory problems as a result of the dust and hay, to dehydration after warm weather on Friday and Saturday. Other ailments included broken bones and substance abuse. As well, there were a few possible cases of sexual assault.
The more serious incidents — a motor vehicle accident on Highway 99 between Whistler and Pemberton, and a camper at Nairn Falls who drowned in the Green River — are not being directly linked to the festival at this time.