Launch Slideshow

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When the Olympics come to town …

When the Olympics come to town …

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    City of Vancouver Engineering Services General Manager Peter Judd (right) with fellow city employees Randy Pecarski (left), then the acting director of planning assistent, and Susan Harvey, “Live site” executive producer. Photo: City of Vancouver

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    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Vancouver schoolchildren welcome the Olympic Flame to the Canadian Pavilion. Photo: VANOC

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    View of the biathlon course at Whistler Olympic and Paralympic Park. Photo: VANOC

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    This map shows Olympic venue locations and planned road closures during the 2010 Winter Vancouver Olympic games in British Columbia, Canada. Photo: City of Vancouver

PW: When did Engineering Services start preparing for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics?

PJ: About six years beforehand, although we were involved in the bid process. When that started in 1998, we were involved in:

  • Determining what venues would be in Vancouver (i.e., alpine events took place in the nearby resort town of Whistler)
  • Negotiating financing with senior governments, the bid committee, and then the organizing committee.

    Five years before the event, the city set up an Olympic secretariat, comprised of 20 people, to lead and manage the city's approach to the games in conjunction with the secretariat offices from the provincial and federal governments, the organizing committee, and First Nations (Aboriginal peoples in Canada). We all co-located with the organizing committee in a building the city purchased for that purpose. This helped significantly with coordination.

    PW: What was the department responsible for, either directly or indirectly?

    PJ: The city was responsible for venue planning, design, and delivery, including the Olympic Village; but Engineering Services became primarily responsible for all arrangements except security outside venue perimeters. Little information was available on what that might mean, so we were completely unaware of the impact security arrangements would have on transportation — or, in fact, on what the demands would be on services like litter collection, street cleaning, and event management.

    In addition to designing and implementing “Olympic transportation” routes, we:

    • Provided wayfinding signage; enhanced litter collection; organized pedestrian priority zones downtown for celebrations; implemented “Live sites” where the public could enjoy the games at low or no cost; and provided specialty lighting, street activations, and snow removal
    • Wrote bylaws to allow for decorative building wraps and signage, and bylaws to protect sponsors in terms of advertising exposure
    • Created and implemented operations plans and protocols with all involved agencies.
    PW: What was the hardest part?

    PJ: The scope of the work was far greater than anyone anticipated. If people knew upfront what was involved, no one would host the Olympics. It's like having a baby: It seems like a great idea and you don't think too much about the pain involved. Afterward, you're tired. You gradually forget about the pain until it seems like a good idea again.

    As a city, the biggest challenge was staying focused on how hosting the Olympics related to our economic development strategy. We had to make sure we didn't get sidetracked by bells and whistles, and that everything we did counted toward that goal.

    As a service department, we gradually became totally consumed by the event. As the date approached, more and more people became focused on the games, and during the Olympics it's everyone's job night and day — in both work and volunteer time.

    We never thought security would become as big an issue as it did. Due to the proximity of the two main venues to the downtown area — the hockey venue and the stadium that hosted opening, closing, and nightly ceremonies — we needed to close two main routes in and out of downtown. We also had to create special lanes for buses and Olympic travel, as well as dedicate space to pedestrians. This meant we had to handle 20% more trips than usual with 30% less road capacity.

    IS YOUR TEAM OLYMPICS-READY?

    How to ensure infrastructure services are fully considered and funded.

    • Make sure your department is involved in the bid process from the start.
    • Hammer out and confirm all details related to each partner's responsibilities.
    • Clarify who's paying for what. Keep clarifying until you're comfortable.
    • Don't build facilities the community can't use once the Olympics are over.
    • Realize your operation will be pushing virtually everything else — major improvements, etc. — aside for two years.
    • Use the games to engage your team; they'll work harder than they ever have, but will feel extremely proud of their accomplishments.