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Race to finish Olympic tents

Project Briefs | April 1, 2010 | By:

Preparing for the last leg of the race.

With just a week before the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and more than 620 tents installed, you might think the staff of Karl’s Event Rental could sit back and relax, knowing their job was done. But that would be simplifying the scope of winning the contract as the Winter Games’ primary tent supplier.

“A routine maintenance program has been a very active part of everyday work for about the last month, month and half, and certainly that will continue throughout the games,” said Mindy McPherson, project manager for the Wisconsin-based company, in early February. And, she noted, “We have begun preparations for decommissioning, taking down tents and getting them ready to ship to other events and back to home base.”

Meanwhile, key staffers were preparing crews for transportation during the Olympics. “It will be very busy with road closures and security details,” McPherson said. Additionally, Karl’s was getting ready to host clients during the games (involving lodging and transportation to the various sport venues).

Karl’s posted 140 people in Canada for the weeks leading up to and during the Olympics, including those working in a warehouse in Port Conquitlam, just outside of Vancouver, that has been operational since January 2009 and will remain in operation through May. Karl’s stocked the warehouse with inventory (everything from flooring to framing and fabric), as well as service equipment, “No Smoking” signs, exit lights, fire extinguishers and electric distribution panels. From the time the tents were up, maintenance crews (12 to 16 crews of six people each) began checking them for structural integrity to ensure they had not been altered by weather conditions or general use.

“Some locations, such as the Olympic Villages in Whistler and Vancouver, have daily maintenance crews, because those are high-profile and high-use locations,” McPherson said. Other locations (for example, those used for sporting events) were on a two- to three-day inspection rotation. Twenty-three field-of-play tents were repositioned throughout the games.

Additionally, Karl’s established a six-member emergency response team that would be on call 24 hours a day to direct maintenance crews in a severe weather or other catastrophic event.

Once the games were over, there would be a lot more to do. “The landowners want their property back, and we want to get our equipment back and serviced,” McPherson said. In addition to preparing breakdown crew and trucking schedules, Karl’s planned for site restoration: ensuring no widgets or refuse were left behind, filling holes, and, as McPherson said, “making it the way we found it and—in some cases—even better.”

Not all sites would be available immediately. “The process for decommissioning will be staggered over the course of a few months,” McPherson said. And after the Olympics (Feb. 18–28), the Paralympics took place (March 12–21); Karl’s was responsible for moving equipment and tents to accommodate those games as well.

McPherson, who began traveling between Wisconsin and Vancouver in January 2009 and “moved” to Canada in May 2009 to help coordinate the project, said she and her colleagues gained much from the experience:

“The whole time that we have been out here, I don’t think a day has gone by when the team has not gained knowledge about what this work involves in terms of opportunity and how we can function better as an organization.”

By Janice Kleinschmidt, a freelance writer based in Palm Springs, Calif.

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