Logistically speaking, UPS and their hidden away nerve centres, have got London 2012 covered
Thursday, 05 July 2012
When the spotlight falls on the Olympic Park in Stratford this summer, lucky ticket holders and billions around the globe watching on television or online will almost certainly be entirely focused on the athletic performances of superstars such as Jamaica's sprint king Usain Bolt.
Little if any consideration will be given as to how the equipment that enables the Games to actually happen got into the Olympic Park and the other venues dotted around London and the UK.
This is where UPS come in.
Back in September 2009, UPS signed a deal with the Organising Committee to become the Official Logistics and Express Delivery Supporter of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This meant that UPS promised to get almost every single piece of sporting and technical equipment into the venues before the Games, and then out again once the Games finished.
UPS carried out the same role at the Beijing 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games and, without wishing to bamboozle you with the facts, I will list a few key statistics from China.
By the time the Beijing 2008 wrapped up, UPS had handled: more than 19 million individual items weighing over 10,000 tons, including the 2,008 drums and 10,000 costumes used in the Opening Ceremony; 400 tons of television broadcast equipment; 70,000 pieces of athletes' luggage; and 254 canoes, kayaks and rowboats.
By the time this year's Games finishes, London 2012 statistics are likely to be pretty similar – which begs the question, how is this all managed?
The key to the entire operation is actually two giant logistics centres, or warehouses to you and me, situated not far from the Olympic Park. The first is a 331,000 square feet facility in Stevenage, which was opened by Olympic champions Ben Ainslie, Denise Lewis and television presenter Steve Rider back in March 2011.
But perhaps the more important logistics centre is the 550,000 square feet facility in Tilbury, less than 25 miles from the Olympic Park. It was this warehouse that I visited to find out more, just before it goes into "lock-down" and delivery operations for London 2012 get really serious.
After getting through the tight security at reception, I was greeted by the UPS director of London 2012 sponsorship and operations Alan Williams. It is Alan who has perhaps coined the best phrase to describe what UPS actually do.
"If you turn the finished Olympic Stadium upside down, everything that falls out – apart from the people – will have been organised by UPS," he told me.
As we began our tour of the giant Tilbury logistics facility, Alan explains what the site is actually for and how it helps UPS deliver 30 million items, including one million pieces of sporting equipment, for the Games. "This warehouse and distribution facility is basically where we store the majority of the equipment for the Games before it goes out to the venues," he said.
"Everything is planned here meticulously. We are obviously on extremely tight deadlines and everything has to be right first time. You can't have the winner of the 100 metre final standing on the podium waiting for his medal because we don't know where it is. With so many time sensitive items needing to be transported in and out of the venues in a short time period, a vast amount of expertise is required to ensure the process is efficient and effective from start to finish. That is really what this facility here and our other facility in Stevenage are all about and they are absolutely vital in helping us conduct our operations."
It was when I got into the first warehouse that I began to realise the huge scale of what UPS has to do to bring the Olympic and Paralympic Games to life. In front of me, were literally thousands and thousands of boxes and packages that ranged from the size of an A4 piece of paper to a large lorry.
Behind the packaging, you could make out the distinct London 2012 logo and purple colour that is synonymous with the Games. I could also make out "text-book" equipment for the Games such as pole vaults, hurdles (pictured above) and javelins. Although, some of the equipment was more of a surprise.
There were bikes and boats for officials as well as a giant net, which I later discovered would become the cage for the discus and hammer throwing at the Olympic Stadium. There were endless tables for the Main Media Centre (MMC), mattresses for the Athletes' Village and signs to provide the "look and feel" of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Halfway through the tour, I was introduced to UPS London 2012 operations manager Derek Irving.
Derek plays one of the key roles in getting things ready for London 2012. He says he always makes the staff at the facility fully aware of the importance of their jobs.
"I often get the staff together to discuss the job they are doing here and to underline the importance of what this project means. This is not just another delivery, this is about getting things in place for the greatest sporting event on the planet and it doesn't come any bigger than that. I really want every single member of staff to bore their grandchildren with how they helped stage the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games because this really is a once in a lifetime opportunity."
Given that there are such huge quantities of material involved, Derek explains that sustainability is a core focus.
"Sustainability is absolutely huge for us and it has to be given the size of the project," he said. "It isn't just something we care about, it's what drives us. It's our commitment to customers as well as our employees. It's the responsibility we have to the communities we live in and the planet we live on."
"If we delivered this project but we were not sustainable, we would have completely failed in one of our core objectives. This is about successfully delivering the Games without incident and with sustainability at the core. So far, so good and we are tracking right where we need to be but the key is to continue this as we reach the business end of the operation."
During the tour, I also, perhaps unsurprising, encountered a number of the dedicated UPS vehicles involved in delivering the Games, including electric zero-emission vehicles. The London 2012 logo I see stamped on them is a highly visible illustration of UPS' involvement with the Games as they travel up and down the country.
Derek says that it one of the key reasons that UPS got involved in the Games.
"Part of this was obviously about brand recognition and showing what we can do," he explained.
"There is no bigger event out there than the Olympic and Paralympic Games and being involved in that and helping deliver it is a huge honour and responsibility for UPS. But being appointed was just the beginning and we will not consider this a job well done until it has been fully completed. That means taking all the equipment out of the Olympic Park and all the venues after the Games and then moving it on by the end of the year. Our goal for completing that is December 31 this year and we are on schedule to do that."
Given that they are on track for success, I ask Derek if Rio 206 is on their minds, as it appears to be the next logical step.
"At this stage, Rio 2016 is not something on our agenda because we are entirely focused on the successful delivery of London 2012 right now," he answered.
"We are very proud of our involvement in London 2012 and our involvement in the Olympic and Paralympic Games to date.We were obviously a provider at Beijing 2008 and we were previously a Worldwide Olympic Partner where we worked on Atlanta 1996, the Nagano Winter Games in 1998 and Sydney 2000. So we have a proud history and a strong track record but Rio 2016 is not being discussed in depth at this stage.
"I think the plan will be to compete London 2012 successfully and then have a full debrief before looking ahead. It is a huge task we have here and we can't afford to take our eye off the ball."
Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames