Racing the Olympic clock
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Nov 05, 2000
With the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games having just crossed the finish line,
Olympic officials have passed the baton to the organizing team for the 2002
Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
Signs of the 2002 Olympics are still rare in Salt Lake City, but the
team integrating and testing the systems that will operate and distribute
information for the games is already racing the clock.
"Just like Atlanta and Sydney, we operate on the idea of dates that
won't slip," said David Busser, chief information officer for the Salt Lake
Organizing Committee. The systems "absolutely, positively have to work"
come Feb. 8, 2002.
The committee's task presents an example for state and local IT managers
who face building massive IT systems under immovable deadlines.
Busser said he plans to spend about $300 million on IT for the games.
Federal agencies are expected to provide $1.3 billion overall for operations
that include security, facilities, road construction and intelligent transportation
In addition, several state and local government agencies are improving
transportation and public safety information systems that will ease congestion
during the games and help emergency response officials provide faster aid.
The committee has not outsourced the IT work but is actively building
the systems with the help of sponsors that supply the hardware and software.
One big challenge for the committee is that for the first time in 40 years,
IBM Corp., which has provided a lot of the technical know-how in years past,
is out of the games. The International Olympic Committee and IBM ended their
relationship in 1998. "No one company does what IBM does," Busser said.
"We put together a consortium of companies to do what IBM did before."
The consortium is responsible for supplying the hardware and software
used to monitor and manage the games; the telecommunications used to transfer
voice, fax and data; and Internet sites that supply the public with up-to-date
The consortium is led by Sema Group, an IT services company based in France
and the United Kingdom. Other official sponsors supplying IT include Gateway
Inc., AT&T, Qwest Communications International Inc. and Lucent Technologies.
November, the committee will begin testing Olympic IT systems by using them
to operate and record events at live world-class sporting competitions.
Those events rely on the Salt Lake City systems but also serve as a drill
for the unexpected, Busser said.
Olympic ticket sales, volunteer recruiting and information distribution
for accredited visitors take place online. IT is used to manage the operation
of the games and provide immediate information to TV commentators, Web sites
and other media.
"The Internet from game to game continues to grow," Busser said. "In addition
to being a source of information, it's also really a business platform."
Busser expects the Web site to receive about 20 billion hits, with 15
billion projected to occur during the games. To keep the site up at all
times, the committee has seven data centers that will run more than 100
servers for the Web traffic.
Busser is confident the IT systems will work, and the reason for his
confidence is a valuable lesson for others, said project management expert
Michael Dobson: Everyone is absolutely clear on what the goal is. "You can
trace an enormous amount of the quality in a project back to who knew what
the goal really was," Dobson said.
Olympic Spirit Infects Utah Government
While the Salt Lake Organizing Committee is designing custom computer
systems for the games, state and local government agencies in Utah are taking
advantage of the opportunity to implement new communications and safety
information systems that will benefit the country long after the games are
The U.S. Justice Department will use the games to showcase a secure
wireless communications network for law enforcement, enabling federal, state
and local agents to communicate with each other on the same system.
The U.S. Transportation Department will install a new nationwide differential
Global Positioning System station in Utah in time for the games. It will
provide public officials using GPS satellite navigation receivers on rail
systems and other vehicles with precise location information in case of
Meanwhile, the Utah Department of Transportation has started a project
with the nonprofit Operation Respond Institute Inc. to promote emergency
preparedness along rail lines and highways. The project involves the development
and distribution of specialized emergency response software and training
to emergency workers at 25 regional dispatch centers and traffic management
facilities located along transportation corridors that serve the 10 Olympic
"The system was used in the Atlanta Olympics, and as a result of the
work there, the Utah DOT decided that this would be a good initiative for
them beyond the Olympics," said Rich Roberts, director of special operations
for the International Union of Police and Operation Respond program manager
for the Utah DOT initiative.
The system is designed to give an extra edge to the very first people
responding to a rail or trucking emergency, particularly when hazardous
materials may be involved, Roberts said.
Using the system, someone with a computer in a vehicle or at a central
dispatch can use a modem to access the rail or trucking carrier's information
system and determine what cargo is contained in a particular compartment
or where the emergency exits and windows are located before entering the
Operation Respond will refine its Operation Respond Emergency Information
System (OREIS), a database of information about hazardous materials and
schematic data about the inside of rail cars and trucks, to meet specific
Olympic needs, Roberts said.
The software provides reference information the responder can apply
to the information found in the carrier's database to determine what equipment
is needed and if there are specific evacuation requirements.
The refined version of OREIS will encompass railroad and highway activity,
both passenger transport and freight shipments, occurring within the Salt
Lake City area. CommuterLink, Utah's major traffic management system, will
also be incorporated. Utah Railway, a Shortline railroad, is already on
the system, and the next version will include Utah Trax, Salt Lake's light
"It's an important system in terms of officer safety," Roberts said.
"In a hazmat situation, the first responder on the scene is likely to be
a patrol officer, which means little if any hazmat knowledge. With this
software, a police officer has a major expert level of safety in response."
More than 500 Utah law enforcement and emergency response personnel
are being trained to use the database system. Software distribution is scheduled
to be complete by September 2001, and the system will operate through 2005.
It will be available only to established emergency response agencies, which
must register with Operation Respond prior to receiving the software.
The software also has other security safeguards that prohibit its misuse,
Roberts said. For example, anytime someone runs an incident that requires
use of the modem to access information such as a rail carrier's cargo description,
the central unit in Maryland is notified, he said, and can keep tabs on
"The Olympics is a major transportation safety concern because the venues
are so widely spread," Roberts said. "If it's on wheels, there's going to
be coverage throughout the [region]."