Testing the waters

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Simon Williams, head of 2012 operations, Weymouth Borough Council talks of the recent London Prepares test event…

The London 2012 Sailing test event – the Weymouth and Portland International Regatta 2011 – ran from July 31 until August 13. It was an operation run by LOCOG from the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy and the adjacent Portland Marina in Dorset.

The regatta is just one of 42 test events scheduled by LOCOG to run as part of the London Prepares series that now run through to May 2012.

Over 380 sailors from more than 60 nations around the world took part in the test event – a similar figure to those that will hug the South Coast’s shoreline during the London 2012 Olympic Sailing competition next year.

While primarily designed to test the systems, processes and equipment that will be used for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the event also formed part of the Games qualification series for many competing athletes and nations.

At the time, Paul Deighton, LOCOG CEO, described the event as a “road test” of all operational plans in the water to ensure smooth sailing.

But it was the planning and preparation of Simon Williams and his team at Weymouth Borough Council that played a truly instrumental role. The test event provided the athletes with an opportunity to sail on the same waters at the same time of year to discover as much as possible about what they may be presented with in Weymouth Bay.

Williams was appointed head of 2012 operations for Weymouth and Portland Borough Council in February this year, having previously worked as head of planning and economic development and as general manager for regeneration and sustainability. He is tasked with leading a team that will manage an anticipated 60,000 visitors per day during Games time.

Testing times

LOCOG ran part of the Weymouth and Portland International Regatta in

Newton’s Cove, despite the fact that the proposed Games-time ticketed spectator experience at Nothe Gardens was not tested: Planning permission for installation of temporary overlay for a ticketed experience had only been granted four days prior to the event commencing. Now, industry awaits the imminent news of who will event manage and run the site.

During the regatta, no big screen or live commentary was relayed to the Nothe Gardens area either.

While primarily designed to test the systems, processes and equipment that will be used for the Olympic and Paralympic Games next year, the regatta was also an important event for competing athletes. On the water, a fleet of race management and safety boats were operational, manned by specialist volunteer and technical officials that ran as many as 170 races over the 12-day event period across the five-race courses that make up the sailing field of play.

Tetra radios and call groups, the Swiss Timing GPS tracking system and the GPS data that drives TV graphics were also thoroughly tested in a real life environment, and full results and timing tests were also undertaken.

Staffing procedures were tested with a team of 500 people helping to stage the event. The team comprises 37 LOCOG staff, 63 international technical officials, 128 national technical officials, 106 sailing specialist test event volunteers and 126 generalist test event volunteers, all working as one team for the first time.

A third of all the test event volunteers came from Weymouth and Portland and the surrounding Dorset area, undertaking roles such as field of play marshals and timing and scoring team members.

Road test

Rob Andrews, sailing competition manager, London 2012, managed all technical aspects of the sailing and regatta, and liaised with the council to ensure as thorough testing as possible.

Williams explains: “During August, we carried out a number of testing exercises, particularly during the Weymouth Carnival. The event attracts 50,000 people, a similar number to what we expect to see on an Olympic Day, and so we were able to monitor crowd movements more rigorously, park and ride systems and the look and feel and dressing of the borough.

“Some of the dressing is still up as we want to see how it’s weathering. The positioning of the look and feel elements was also looked at.

“Ambassador volunteers looked at advertising and street trading, as we need to be aware of potential unauthorised goings on. We introduced additional toilet cleaning and this worked well. Extra waste collections meant that we could confirm the timings when extra waste collections are needed.

“We learned lessons around personal protective equipment. The park and ride spaces were virtually full. During Games- time we will have five park and ride sites operational, and an Olympic route network and relief road was tested and worked extremely well.”

Williams concludes: “Now it’s a case of taking forward the technical and operational lessons learned and fine tuning them. We are currently in the process of a debrief, but we have other events coming up so there may be more opportunities to do more testing.”