Those who have lived in Hong Kong know how biting its local media can be. In the run-up to the fifth East Asian Games, which took place in the territory from 5th to 13th December 2009, newspaper headlines seemed bent on spoiling the party. Poor organisation. Failure to attract spectators. Chaos. Not copy that would instill the general public with confidence that the government would stage a successful show.
But the worriers had a right to worry. Hong Kong had never hosted any large international, multi-sport event before, and 2377 athletes competing in 262 events, covering 22 sports, were to descend on one of the world’s most densely populated cities. The next biggest international sport event every held in Hong Kong was the equestrian part of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, involving around 200 jumpers competing in just two venues.
A lack of experience was seen as the major security challenge to the East Asian Games, admits Wong Yuen Lee, Division Head, Contingency Planning, East Asian Games Company – an entity set up to run the Games. Putting on a multi-sport event not only involves multiple competing venues, but also numerous hotels and entry-exit points. “Controlling and monitoring work for a multiple stream sports games located at multiple sites is a major challenge,” says Wong. “Fortunately nowadays it can be overcome by effective communication systems including video monitoring, video conferencing system, telephones, mobile phones, computerised bulletin boards and powerful trunk radio.”
Wong served as Team Head of Operational Readiness during the Equestrian Games, and before that, Manager of the 40,000-capacity Hong Kong Stadium. By the time of the Closing Ceremony, the whole city was singing to the tune of the Games. This was not just because Hong Kong’s football team managed to beat stronger opposition in South Korea and Japan, but because the Games exceeded expectations.
Several benchmarks were used to gauge the success of the Games, including: 1. All medals anticipated to be given out were presented; 2. All competitions were completed in accordance with the schedule; and 3. Positive feedback from participants, local residents and the media. “For the case of EAG, the first two benchmarks were 100 per cent achieved and feedback was considered positive towards the end of the Games,” Wong says, revealing that in the internal debriefing, it was concluded that the Games was “a valuable experience and a success”.
An event of such scale couldn’t take place without a number of different parties; contractors, police, fire services, ambulance services, transport, immigration, as well as the government department governing sporting activities in the region – the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. The organisers worked closely with the police for advice on the security threat level, an operational plan and a staff deployment plan for security services. Regular meetings and drills were held to ensure all parties were prepared for the Games.
“In view of the temporary nature and budgetary constraints for most Games, staff were mainly inexperienced and young, yet energetic and enthusiastic,” comments Wong. “A lot of effort had to be made before the Games to coach them to face up to chaotic, high pressure situations.” FutureGov visited the Main Command Centre after it had gone live and a few days before the start of the Games.
The centre, described by Wong as at the heart of all the action, was converted from a squash court at the Hong Kong Sports Centre. Security guards at the door checked visitors, who needed a special pass to enter. Entries and exits were logged. Inside, two managers were running 12-hour shifts to oversee all security and operational issues. Police, Fire Services, Transport Department, Leisure and Cultural Services Departments and a few other stakeholders each had a table with their own technical area. Wong explains that the arrangement of the centre was carefully mapped out such that communications would be most effective and responses most prompt.
In the manager’s area were large computer screens which allowed real-time monitoring of different venues as well as video conferencing with venue managers. A giant TV screen also ran the news channel, monitoring the response, which would be closely watching the Games. “The main functions of the Command Centre are the 3 Cs: command, communication and control,” explains Wong, who elaborates that an operational structure of three layers was used: Venue, Command Centre and senior government representatives, depending on the severity of events.
“Contingency planning is usually ignored by the majority of low-security level events, so people often don’t understand how important it is,” comments Wong. “However, for such a large scale event involving so many stakeholders, we have to map out policies and procedures so that even the most inexperienced stakeholder knows what to do under what circumstances.” Wong’s team tried to anticipate all the potential threats, preparing 30 to 40 scenarios for each venue for each specific sport, to “make the job simple for all parties”.
In total, 60 contingency plans were made, covering all venues and sports to be held. “To work out so many contingency plans in such a short time, we had to work out a template first,” Wong shares. “The concerned stakeholders then had to integrate the required information and response action required for special areas for each particular sport into the template.” When the draft plans were completed, concerned stakeholders were called in to comment on the feasibility of each plan and a panel was set up to screen details before exercises and drills could be conducted.
Over 20 exercises were arranged for all sports, on top of more than 10 briefings for staff of all stakeholders. “These exercises and drills have helped enhance the management standards of sporting events in Hong Kong,” comments Wong. She also cautions that in order for the event to be properly handled, the choice of security contractor is vital. “There are specific criteria for a particular event, but generally the contractor should have had suitable and adequate experience in handling largescale sporting events,” she elaborates. “And more than one contractor should be used to avoid over-reliance on a single entity.”
An advanced communication system for all stakeholders is considered to be value for money investment, says Wong. “However, sufficient training of users is needed for the system to work effectively in action,” she cautions. Most EAG stakeholders had little experience working as a team, so exercises and drills were specifically conducted to ensure the actual flow of information and decisions would be efficient during the Games. While each stakeholder had their own internal communications system, a Bulletin Board System ensured quick reporting and exchange of real-time situational awareness by allowing all parties to post information to report progress as well as emergency incidences.
A video conferencing system was also put in place to enable audio-visual communications between different sports venues, key government departments and the Main Command Centre. Venue managers used the videoconferencing system such that they could report real-time scenarios and seek approval to take action. For more serious incidents, several offices were involved in the discussion, “which proved to be effective”.
Emergency Departments such as the Fire Services Department and the Police Force used their own trunk radio for communications and dispatch, and the Transport Department used its own computerised system to monitor and report situations along the key transport routes. The organisers tried to explore a CC TV system for surveillance especially for the ingress and egress points, but failed in view of the quality, coverage and hiring charge of the line involved, which does not permit short-term use. “We identified the need for CC TV, but could not find a cost effective solution,” Wong regrets.
In working out the monitoring system for the Main Control Centre with the Venue Control Centre it was agreed that, apart from the report on the normal flow of the event, there were other incidents considered vital which needed to be immediately reported. They included fatal or serious injury cases, incidents which attract media attention, serious incidents involving the attention of other venues or stakeholders; and issues which required policy support. “The security team should send an experienced officer to stay at the venue control centre, which acts as a joint command centre for monitoring the flow of the event and decision making if an emergency response action was required,” she says.
Wong is thankful that the incidents which occurred were less serious than the worst scenarios the organisers had planned for. A few injures and cases of sickness were reported in the beginning, including food allergies and a confirmed swing flu case. “We did trigger off the required response actions for the suspected cases and the system worked very well,” Wong asserts, adding that in an actual situation, minor changes to the contingency plan in response to the situations were constantly communicated to stakeholders.
Looking back at the hectic days of the Games, Wong believes that future Games should place more stress on the preparation stage including working out the policies and procedures in great detail, more time to run test events, as well as source and deploy more experienced staff. “The awareness of the workforce on contingency planning and participation in exercises and drills should be enhanced to enable them to handle emergency situations more confidently and smoothly,” she says.
“The establishment of a good communication system in the Main Control Centre with the Venue Control is a must to provide the required assistance to the venues in view of the inexperience of the management team for the majority of Venue Control.”
Wong also highlights the significance of observing the ways in which other Games are secured. “Although you can’t directly replicate what the others have done, such observations do give you inspiration.” A few other major international multi-sport events are going to take place in the region over the next two years, including the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, the Asian Games in Guangzhou, the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore and the World University Games in Shenzhen.
“The success of the EAG will bring added value to Hong Kong including a good atmosphere, social cohesiveness and tourists aplenty,” Wong concludes. “The sports body in Hong Kong is very keen to seek the government’s support to bid for the coming Asian Games.”
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