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The Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games Experience

9. Briefing and Dissemination Services

Briefing Team representatives were an important part of the new system that ECCC developed for enhanced weather monitoring and alerting services for the Games. The aim was to ensure the safety and security of Canadians and visitors from the torch relays through to the closing ceremonies.

During the Games, two teams of weather briefers were dispatched to work in two separate locations in the GTA. The first team of five briefers was located at the MOC on the Toronto lakeshore. This briefing team was ECCC’s first and primary point of contact for TO2015, providing bilingual services in support of their operations for the Games. The second team with two briefers and two backup briefers was located at the UCC in Brampton, Ontario, supporting municipal, regional, provincial and federal police services in support of safety and security for the Games.

The briefing teams used products from ECCC’s OSPC and data collected specifically for the Games to brief these organizations and assist in decision making as required. They were equipped with a highly customized workstation specifically designed for the Games. This workstation, and the ones used by the OSPC, also ingested weather and air quality data specifically collected for the Games from ECCC’s enhanced Mesonet (see Section 5). The Mesonet provided data minutely to the briefing teams and the OSPC, an enhancement to hourly observations from the standard reporting network. The increased number of weather observations within the Games area provided a more detailed view of the state of the atmosphere during the Games. The briefing teams tailored the forecast products and observational data into relevant information that was easily interpreted by the TO2015 Games decision-makers.

9.1 Briefing Team at the TO2015 Main Operations Centre (MOC)

During the early discussions and meetings with TO2015 in 2012, it was identified that an MSC presence would be required at the MOC. In the spring of 2014, the briefing team’s lead was recruited to coordinate this presence at the MOC, and to work with TO2015 to identify requirements and the logistical aspects of the MOC Briefing Team. The lead staffed the MOC Briefing Team with four additional briefers with strong bilingual communication skills and experience in briefing large groups and media.

There were two internal training sessions for the briefers where the scope of the training included their new tools, client requirements, contingency protocols and communication logistics. All tools that would be used by the briefers were tested by June 2015. The IPAW, their primary tool, would provide rapid access to meteorological data and information directly from ECCC’s OSPC.

The hours of operation of the MOC Briefing Team were from 6:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. After 10:30 p.m., there was a handover to the OSPC until the MOC briefer arrived the next morning and was briefed by the OSPC. The MOC operated from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. On a few occasions, the MOC Briefing Team extended its hours of operation in the evening due to significant weather.

There were five scheduled briefings to TO2015 per day, but this schedule varied based on client requirements. French-language weather briefings were provided on request. The first weather briefing of the day at 6:30 a.m. allowed Games management to have as much lead time and warning for impending active weather as possible so that decisions could be made, for example, for outdoor sporting event schedules and/or safety of volunteers and spectators. The MOC briefers also prepared two weather summaries each day for wider email distribution by the TO2015 organization. A large display screen was used extensively by the briefers, and very much appreciated at the MOC for a quick status update on the location of precipitation or lightning.

The MOC Briefing Team quickly adapted to any new requirements that were presented to them. The various representatives at the MOC communicated these requirements, and the Briefing Team quickly prepared for it. It became clear to the MOC briefers that they would have to deal with requests outside the primary mandate of safety and security. For example, it was learned that any wind above 50 km/h was important to venue management, while temperature exceeding 30°C triggered action from the TO2015 workforce representatives. Some venues were also very sensitive to any rain. Baseball, for example, had very specific procedures to follow, and maintenance staff at the venue had very specific requirements if any rain was forecast.

The MOC Briefing Team learned rapidly that any convective weather (i.e., showers to thunderstorms) escalated the demands on the desk beyond the capability of a single briefer. On many occasions, the desk was staffed with an additional briefer on the evening shift, and on very active convective weather days, the day shift would have as many as three briefers present during the active late afternoon hours. The ability and flexibility to overstaff proved essential to serve the client well, and also for maintaining a reasonable amount of stress and workload on the briefers.

Lightning was the largest concern to MOC and TO2015 stakeholders. MOC personnel relied heavily on the Briefing Team to monitor and alert them of lightning threats. The Briefing Team was asked to alert MOC when lightning could threaten any venue within the hour.

Overall, the MOC Briefing Team performed extremely well by demonstrating their adaptability and versatility during the Games. Almost every tool was used, and many of the planned contingencies were also used. In addition, weather products were created in anticipation of sport-specific requests. The success of the MOC Briefing Team can be attributed to the preparations conducted prior to the Games, the skills set assembled within and the willingness of each member to share his or her skills and knowledge.

Figure 19.

Photo showing four members of the Environment and Climate Change Canada Briefing Team at the TO2015 Main Operations Centre (two standing; two sitting).
Photo: © Denis Paquette

9.2 Briefing Team at the Unified Command Centre

Late in the fall of 2014, the UCC leadership indicated that an MSC presence would be an asset to them, and by the spring of 2015, the MSC agreed to have a briefing team at the UCC for the Games. This late decision meant that the MSC had very limited time to assemble and train the Briefing Team and to address technological challenges, including communication and equipment acquisition.

A briefing team lead was recruited within ECCC to coordinate the UCC Briefing Team. It was determined that a briefing team of two members was required to cover the 10-hour daily shifts from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Two backup briefers were also recruited to ensure that a briefer would always be available. Unlike the MOC, which closed at 1:00 a.m., the UCC operated 24 hours per day. Once the briefers left for the day, the UCC received its briefings from the OSPC forecasters. For both briefing teams (MOC and UCC), briefing services were only provided during the periods of the Pan Am Games and the Parapan Am Games.

The briefers were equipped with the same tools and contingencies as the MOC briefers to support three scheduled daily briefings and any impromptu requests. The MSC UCC Briefing Team worked very well with UCC staff on shifts; it was a very positive environment and working relationship. Flexibility was also built into the UCC, so that schedule and duties could be adjusted when required by service requests.

At 5:45 a.m., the forecaster would phone the UCC duty officer’s desk to provide a weather briefing for the day, which would provide enough detail and information to allow the Command Centre officers to create their situation reports and briefings for their Deputy Commissioner. Once the briefer arrived at 9:00 a.m., he or she would receive a full weather briefing from the OSPC forecaster. The briefer was then the main weather contact for the UCC officers until the end of his or her shift at 7:00 p.m.  At that time, any required weather services reverted back to the night shift forecaster at the Games desk within the OSPC.

The UCC Briefing Team, like the MOC Briefing Team, was overall successful in delivering quality services to the client. Following the Games, the Federal Security Coordinator, RCMP lead, indicated that any future large events would also benefit from ECCC’s presence in their Integrated Security Unit.

Figure 20.

Photo of Elizabeth Dowdeswell, former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, and current Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, speaking with staff and briefing team member during her visit to the Police Unified Command Centre.
Photo: © Kristine Rae

9.3 Support to the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre

Within the PEOC, the coordination of the security risks and concerns were handled daily. Weather updates were provided to facilitate their decision making. However, there was a separate and special team identified to handle safety and security issues related only to the Games venues and operations. Each morning at 8:00 a.m., ECCC participated in the PEOC Situational Awareness conference call to discuss any outstanding issues from previous days and any risks or emerging issues for the current day or future days, which could include hazardous weather. These calls were conducted early in the day to allow partners and stakeholders to provide status updates on any issues that took place in previous days that required multiple days to resolve. Also, any anticipated threats or risks were discussed on the call, and mitigation strategies were established within the network to maintain as smooth an operation of all sporting events as possible. Weather updates were always required, and they facilitated decision making for any outdoor concerns of the day.

The final integration factor where a briefing cycle played an important role was operations at the PEOC. At the PEOC, the partners for the Games were requested to participate in a daily conference call. It was an opportunity to communicate what partner support would be required to address issues and to provide a status report on anything that needed more than one day to be resolved. If required, another conference call was convened at 5:00 p.m.

9.4 Support to Essential Federal Services

ECCC’s support to EFS was critical to all multi-jurisdictional services in support of the Games. One of two individuals from ECCC’s Project Management team participated daily on all briefing calls related to the provision of weather services to all EFS partners. There were also scheduled briefings between this EFS briefing team and ECCC’s briefers at the MOC and UCC. Multiple touchstones during each day permitted a cross-communication between the three briefing teams and the forecasters at the OSPC.

Colleagues knew and understood that calls could be convened of the federal group at any time if situations arose requiring the urgent and immediate attention of the partners. Apart from any impromptu meetings, the EFS team required from each partner an end-of-day report that was to be submitted by 6:00 p.m. This report described the day’s activities and was also used as a briefing tool for the following day to ensure continuity. ECCC provided a summary of the day’s weather events and its impacts on the Games. Had there been an environmental emergency, then this report would have taken on a much more descriptive tone related to the emergency and the associated environmental conditions.

9.5 The Ocean Networks Weather Portal

Internally, the OSPC forecasters and briefing teams at the MOC and UCC had a suite of tools to view the Mesonet data and produce forecasts and alerts. Ocean Networks Canada, a not-for-profit society created by the University of Victoria in British Columbia, provided ECCC with the platform for distribution of our products to external users. This fully bilingual (English and French) weather portal delivered our surface weather observations, weather forecasts and alerts to security services, TO2015 and those sporting federations approved by the TO2015 organization. The new weather portal was a supplementary tool often used internally by forecasters, briefers and scientists.

The portal was a noted success, allowing approved users to access up-to-the-minute weather conditions for their venue while also viewing the venue-specific weather forecast and alert status. The site hosted over 900 unique users for just over 12,000 site visits, which made for a significant reduction in routine queries to the ECCC weather briefing teams.

9.6 EC Alert Me

EC Alert Me is an email and Web service developed by ECCC for the general Emergency Management Community to deliver weather and environmental alerts to subscribers. A modified EC Alert Me service was tailored specifically for venue managers and Games planners. Subscribers would receive venue-specific alerts. The products that were made available were:

  • Smog and Air Health Advisories (SAHA);
  • AQHI Alerts;
  • UV Alerts;
  • Lightning Forecast Alerts; and
  • Venue-specific Weather Alerts.

To view the alerts, an email was sent out with a link to the Web page where more details could be found depending on the alert type. The AQHI page was the one exception where most users received only an email. For specific users, approved by the Air Quality and Health program, an additional link was added to the provincial “WISDOM” Web page (see Section 12.3.1 for details on WISDOM).

In excess of 300 people subscribed to the Games-specific service in contrast to the approximate 12,000 clients using the general EC Alert Me email and Web service.

9.7 Lightning Alerting

A mobile lightning application was developed by Vaisala Canada Inc. in support of the FIFA 2015 Women’s World Cup and Canadian Heritage, which provided funding for the development of the application. It proved to be so successful for FIFA that an expanded version was approved for use for the Games. The application provided updates of lightning activity from the Canadian Lightning Detection Network every 60 seconds for user-selected venues. Each update showed the past 30 minutes of actual lightning strikes with an accompanying call-to-action safety message.

Based on feedback that was received on the lightning application, the most important lesson learned was that lightning risk information should be presented in a simple and easily understood fashion, one that does not require interpretation by an “expert.” In the short period of the 2015 Games, the Vaisala lightning application met this criterion.

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