The Olympic effect

By: Victor Smart, Manager, Fire & Life Safety – Vancouver Properties, The Cadillac Fairview Corporation Ltd.

 On July 2nd, 2003 when Dr. Jacque Rogge President of the IOC announced “the 2010 Olympic games are awarded to the city of…..Vancouver”, I, like most people in Vancouver was swept up in a wave of patriotism and joy. Our country, our city, would be welcoming the world as the hosts of the 21st Winter Olympic Games. And at the time, I, like most people in Vancouver, really had no idea what we were in store for.

How did businesses prepare? Telecommuting for staff? Adjusting Business hours? Encourage staff to take vacation during the Olympics? Business closures? Business as usual? Extra security? How many? Where? When? For how long? Need a Consultant? Who? What qualifications? What do you want them to do? Deliveries? These are just some of the questions that needed answers in order to survive during the 17 + day period in February.

In 2003 we all thought “2010 is a long way away”. Unlike other events that we prepare for (floods, earthquakes etc.), we knew the Olympics were coming. We knew when it was going to start and when it was going to end. I predicted that some business owners/managers were going to wake up one day, look at their calendar and cry out “Holy Smokes! The Olympics are just around the corner”. I was right. Our organization received inquiries asking what plans we had made as late as January 2010.

My colleagues and I come from diverse backgrounds of public and private safety with some experience planning for large events. However, none of us had ever before planned for such a large scale event with so many variables.

As one of the largest property owners and managers in downtown Vancouver at ground zero, as we thought of it, we needed information, we needed procedures, and we needed partnerships.

We started our preliminary planning in the fall of 2008 with only a blank sheet a paper, some ideas and speculation of what the City of Vancouver’s and other stakeholder’s Olympic Plans were(including road closures, transit etc.). In January of 2009, we began meeting more frequently, hammering out detail after detail. Just like any business processes, we had to attach a dollar figure to it and justify the need for it. Not only did we require additional resources, human and material, we had to decide when and where those resources would be deployed and in the case of human resources, what duties they would perform. We felt we were ahead of the game so we alerted our contract security service provider to expect a final number of our requirements in the summer/fall of 2009. Much earlier than expected.

One of the “legacies” of the Olympic Experience was our partnerships. We are fortunate enough to have contacts in the emergency services and private industry prior to February 2010 and these relationships led to making contact with those who would turn out to be our “Olympic Partners” for a further detailed refinement of our plan. These relationships allowed us to directly interact with the various agencies preparing and planning for the games such as Vancouver Organizing Committee Security (VANOC), the Vancouver Integrated Security Unit, the Vancouver Police Department, the South Coast British Columbia Transit Authority (Transit Police), the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET), the City of Vancouver and the British Columbia Olympic Secretariat.  Our properties were in close proximity to non-competition venues and having these contacts gave us the ability to communicate in detail about how our plans and our tenants’ plans would impact those venue activities and a mutual understanding of each stakeholder’s “issues” was clear.

When these relationships were established and meetings held, it allowed us better insight for such things as themes, participant demographics, locations, restrictions, timelines and anticipated size of any events. Thus we were able to plan well in advance for these events. Further, because of the existence of a “security zone” adjacent to one of our complexes, we collaborated on a system to allow deliveries to our tenants during “off hours.”  Again this would have been a greater challenge had relationships not been bridged. We were able to provide our tenants with information from the source rather than what “people heard” scenarios.

Once these bits and pieces were hammered out, we had to start planning for the “what ifs.” What if this happened, what if that happened? As an example, due to the non-competition venues and security zones in close proximity to our properties, practically all evacuation assembly areas had to be temporarily relocated. With this came the communication to our tenants of the change in locations. This also resulted in a certain amount of anxiety of what would happen should an emergency occur. Would there be confusion?

One of the very last things that was done was the exercising of likely events that may occur. Table top and field exercises were conducted on a variety of topics such as demonstrations, bomb threats, active shooters and general threat escalation possibilities. Although invited to do so, emergency services understandably were too far immersed in their exercises and pre-event planning to participate in our exercises and thus their actions and reactions had to be speculated.

We planned for a multitude of “worst case scenarios” and even though we hosted hundreds of thousands of people at each of our complexes each day, things were generally very calm. It could have been worse though. I’m certainly glad that all that occurred was Canada having a remarkable showing on the podium.

In summation my boss came up with an apropos slogan for the “Olympic Experience”. He said we would be working “business as unusual”, and for seventeen days and nights it was just that. However, because of two years of planning and exercising, we were well equipped and prepared for this extraordinary event.