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As the Beijing 2008 Olympics approach, we are becoming more and more aware of the challenges that Olympic event organizers have to overcome. The Beijing Torch Relay garnered widespread media attention for all the wrong reasons. It faced disruptions and protest at nearly every public outing, not to mention the embarrassment it caused the Chinese government. And although the motives behind the disturbances are unlikely to affect Canada’s time in the spotlight at the 2010 Winter Olympics, it is an important lesson in the significance of proper planning for times when things don’t go as planned.


August 6, 2008
By Mark McWhirter

Topics

As the Beijing 2008 Olympics approach, we are becoming more and more aware of the challenges that Olympic event organizers have to overcome. The Beijing Torch Relay garnered widespread media attention for all the wrong reasons. It faced disruptions and protest at nearly every public outing, not to mention the embarrassment it caused the Chinese government. And although the motives behind the disturbances are unlikely to affect Canada’s time in the spotlight at the 2010 Winter Olympics, it is an important lesson in the significance of proper planning for times when things don’t go as planned.

It is difficult to prepare for the unexpected or the unknown, but it is necessary. In times of chaos, a well-designed plan not only acts as a framework for success, it is often the reason that success was achieved. One of the principal keys to success in responding to a disaster is having a plan in place ahead of time. Recent events have shown that an immediate response can significantly benefit humanity’s well-being – and that ill planning, poor communication or blatant disregard can lead to unnecessary suffering.

At no time in history have helicopters had so high a profile. Much of this is based on iconic imagery from disasters around the world and at home. Our seemingly limitless access to information has equipped a new generation with multiple media to absorb world events. Helicopters are seen saving lives after hurricanes, flying in urgently needed relief supplies, or fighting fires near populated metropolitan areas.

Increased awareness of helicopters is advantageous to the Vancouver Olympic Committee, but even more it benefits area heli-operators looking for involvement. The cost of including helicopters in a response plan is more easily justified as their acceptance increases, and the roles available for helicopters increase with knowledge gained from other large-scale events.

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Technology, with its improvements in engineering and manufacturing, has further advanced the role of the helicopter.

As a community, we must put our faith in the decisions and planning of the Olympic organizers. But it is our responsibility as an industry to promote our ongoing commitment to safety and accomplishment. Self-promotion is necessary whether it is called marketing, advertising or simply selling.

The question lingers, however: how do you sell yourself in the event of the unexpected? The need is to plan for all potential occurrences. It is better to be overprepared than to be caught off guard. Civilian rotary-wing operators who are already active in search and rescue, air ambulance or other critical mission support roles are most likely to be included in any plan. The specialized knowledge of local operators far exceeds that of any others brought in specifically for the Olympics, particularly when the difficult terrain, unpredictable weather and narrow margin of safety are considered.

To understand the challenges and to make proper preparations, all aspects of emergency response and civil operation need to be considered. An operator must differentiate itself based on experience, training and/or knowledge. And it is important to expand on existing interactions and strengths to further leverage the working relationship. As a helicopter operator, your strongest selling feature is your reputation.


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