STWM11 Baggage meltdown Review

Hi everyone;

It’s been a month since STWM now. Like you, we’ve been trying to recover, but it’s also continued to be very busy as we clean up, return rental products, pay LOTS of bills, mail-out unclaimed prizes, conduct and review post-race Surveys, and do our complete Review process of the entire event. In this process, we not only look at your comments from the Survey, but receive Reports from all our CRS full-time Staff and our 223 area Managers.

Given the meltdown we had in the Baggage Reclaim process, I promised we’d be more than willing to share our debrief of this area, to explain what happened, and what our plans are to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Here it is!

As part of the Baggage Reclaim review, we also invited a “runner Rep.,” to join us at an open meeting at our CRS offices on The Esplanade on Friday, October 28th. Fidelia Hung is an experienced, keen runner, a lawyer, and an outspoken advocate!! We were pleased and very appreciative that Fidelia took the time out of her day to participate in what proved to be an open, frank, transparent and very constructive session. I’ll try to provide you with the most important points of an extensive review.

What happened & why?

  • Background. While we knew last November that we would not be able to use Nathan Phillips Square as our 2011 venue because of proposed construction, for whatever reason, we did not receive permission for this year’s temporary Start & Finish locations until August 15th. That left us 7 or 8 weeks to completely plan a massive event. Recognizing the folly of this, the City is meeting with us on Wednesday this week, to begin the 2012 planning process.
  • Nevertheless, we did have what we thought was a workable Plan that completely unravelled for a variety of reasons.
  • Personnel/context.I think the #1 explanation is that we did not have one, single Senior, full-time CRS Staff person (or senior, experienced, volunteer Baggage Manager) in charge of the whole Baggage process: from checking-in at Start to Reclaiming. This year, we went from a stationary Baggage site in NPS/the Sheraton hotel, to moving the baggage from the Start to a more-distant Finish at Bay & King. We do this at the [formerly Sporting Life] Toronto 10K, at the Scotia Vancouver Half marathon, and at Oasis ZooRun, but in all these instances, we have a CRS Senior Staff member (or Senior, experienced volunteer Manager) function as “Baggage Manager” all the way through the process. At STWM11, a much bigger event, we were stretched and Dave (who does this at Toronto Yonge Street 10K) was needed out on the Course. This meant that the management process was DIVIDED between Heather at the Start and Tim & Kathryn at the Finish/Party site area. There WERE 9 volunteer Managers, one associated with each truck that moved through the whole process, but not the Senior Staff person.  And Tim, a student on a 3 month contract, was “subbing” for Sabrina – our regular, post-Race Party/Site Manager who went on “Maternity Leave” on September 28th.  In terms of time and personnel, we were stretched, and we needed things to unfold smoothly. They did not.
  • The #2 biggest cause was that given a stretched personnel/management situation, the baggage trucks lined up in the WRONG ORDER at the Start. This was not corrected. It meant that the largest, Half marathon truck was put in last, closest to the Start line/the runners. This meant that while the plan called for it to be the first Baggage vehicle to leave [because the Half marathoners would be at the Finish area first], it was actually the LAST to leave. Because it was last, all the late-comer runners [regardless of their bib #] threw their bags at that vehicle. They then went on the top of all the organized bags, in no order at all [and shouldn’t have been on that truck]. Because this truck left last, it arrived at the designated finish area Baggage Reclaim location LAST [instead of first], and couldn’t get into its planned location. It was also LATE, and many of the Half marathoners were already coming in, cold, wanting their bags. In the panic that ensued, the team from this truck dumped all of these bags from the largest vehicle out on top of many of the other bags already on-site. This meant that the one-truck problem now buried everyone else’s bags and made it a complete meltdown. To be sure, as many of you have pointed out, the Baggage Reclaim area we had was too small. It’s true, but it’s what we ended up with on August 15th, as a temporary, one-year relocation because of the Nathan Phillips Square reconstruction. We had a back-up plan, that IF there was not enough space, the Crews would leave some of the bags on the actual trucks, to utilize this further space. As we know, that all went out the window – or out the back of the trucks!
  • At this point the situation we unsolvable/impossible to re-organize. It was made even worse by the fact that a bunch of folks [understandably] used the Scotiabank drawstring bags to check things in, and in all the panic and rough-handling, they began to split emptying their contents, and ID tags were coming off…… Tim says it was the worst day of his life. He’s done, gone back to North Bay, and decided against a career in events. I feel badly and take the responsibility, for the position he was placed in. Again, it comes back to having that “Senior Staff” person as Baggage Manager.   

Recommendations

  • I think our #1 pledge to you is to “get it right”, to get it solved so it doesn’t happen again. Just as Chicago did when they had to cancel their marathon in mid race in 2007.
  • #1 recommendation is to have that Senior Staff Baggage Manager for the entire, moving of bags from Start to Finish. If we are back at Nathan Phillips Square with a “non-moving” Bag Check Area in 2012, we still need to, and will have, this Senior Manager. We had enough volunteer helpers and staff; it is the management structure that needs to be changed. This is a principle we’ll employ throughout CRS, especially in other “moving Baggage” races like Toronto Yonge Street 10K, Oasis ZooRun & Scotia Vancouver Half.
  • We strongly consider using School Buses for baggage, instead of trucks, like Boston and Niagara. With ~500 bags per bus, and windows and seats, it’s a much easier, more-organized process. We DID consider this in the short time-frame we had this year, but ended up using every single bus available from the four companies we usually deal with, for shuttles, MarahonKIDS, and volunteer pick up & distribution. We have time for 2012 to find a fifth, reliable company to deal with for the baggage detail.
  • Make sure we have enough physical space
  • Consider using clear plastic, drawstring bags with your bib # stickers to attach for identification, like New York City Marathon. These bags and stickers will come in your Packet Pick-Up runners’ kit. This will help us control the size of the bags that are checked and assist in the planning of adequate space [as well as solving the bag-splitting and tag-fall-off issues]. We will implement this in 2012 at the Toronto Yonge Street 10K on April 22nd [formerly Sporting Life Toronto 10k] as well as for STWM2012.
  • Finally, for these two events, we should make the “Toonie” fee for bag check a “suggested donation”, at your discretion. I will add, that as long as we’ve had this fee, 100% of the toonies, all of the money, has gone to the race charities. At STWM, it has been divided equally between our 3 Featured Charities. Zero of this money has ever gone to CRS.

In conclusion, on behalf of all of us at Canada Running Series, I’d like to thank ALL of you who came out to STWM11, in record numbers, and make one final apology for the Baggage Reclaim situation. I hope that many of you had a good experience with the rest of the event. Like many of you, the CRS team “ran ‘til they dropped” on October 16th. I’m enormously proud of the job they do, putting on some of the best races in the country, month in and month out, year after year, to bring top-class road races to Canada.  Dylan Wykes’ coach was kind enough to say that CRS “has revolutionized road running in Canada”.  Certainly, the IAAF Silver Label that the CRS team has earned for STWM through outstanding organization, is indeed something to be proud of. This year’s baggage was an ENORMOUS disappointment for me and the entire team. We took it very personally. But our best pledge to you is to get if fixed, and you have my word we WILL! Just like Chicago did in 2007 with their Water Stations. Or a few years back, when Marine Corps introduced metal detectors at the entrance to their Expo. The first year, RD Rick Nealis told me, they confiscated about 50 guns going into the Expo. They confiscated 3 guns that runners attempted to check in their Race-Day baggage. As far as he knew, he said, “no-one ran with a gun.” But one thing was for sure, there were 2+ hour waits to get into the Expo and Packet Pick Up that first year, stretching a block outside, in the pouring rain. This only happened once, as Marine Corps, like Chicago is a great race. And so is STWM. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank many of you for your kind words about STWM11, and for your continued support. We look forward to working with Fidelia and all of you, to continue to build STWM into a truly great world-marathon for Canada, and all the CRS events as great races you can mark on your calendar and look forward to every season with the assurance that you are going to be guaranteed a great time.

Alan

Moving forward! Runner Fidelia Hung (white jacket) and CRS team members involved (Kathryn, Charlotte, Heather, Dave & Tim) looking a little happier after a very positive STWM Baggage Review meeting at CRS offices, October 28th.

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3 Responses to STWM11 Baggage meltdown Review

  1. Matthew Cohen says:

    Thank you for taking the time to post this review and try to alleviate the problems for next year. After standing in line for close to an hour I looked up and realized, “At least it’s not raining” because that would have made the situation a lot worse! And special thanks to the harried volunteers for staying, it could not have been easy for them.

    Another problem with the setup that you didn’t mention is that the baggage pick up was very close the finish line, and that intersection became incredibly congested as the line-up got longer and more people finished their runs. Even if there had not been a problem with the trucks, that small space would have still filled up very quickly and resulted in long, slow-moving lines of people waiting for their bags, and other finishers having to push through that crowd to get out of the post-race area..
    Other than that the race organization and route was great and I look forward to running it again next year.

  2. Robert Hanks says:

    I observed other problems with the baggae process. These included:

    1) There were not enough chutes for the runners to line up in to claim their baggage.

    2) This was compounded by the numbering system. Different chutes were reserved for different sequences of bib numbers. This may have made sense on paper, but because the number sequences corresponded to the different races, all of the half-marathoners were directed to two or three chutes, while other chutes were (initially) unused. As a result, the lines were longer than they need to be.

    3) The volunteers handling the baggage made a mess of things. They were calling out numbers for bags for runners who had not arrived yet. When these were unclaimed, they dropped them on the ground and made a mountain of unclaimed bags on their side of the table. Many bags were stepped on as a result.

    4) As a result of all these factors, I had to wait over 15-20 minutes after I reached the claim tables to get my bag. This seemed even longer because of the obvious chaos amongst the baggage handlers and because of the cold weather, which was not a factor in your control, but which nevertheless added to the general misery of the situation.

    Overall, the baggage situation was by far the worst that I have ever experienced. However, I regard this incident as very atypical for CRS, which I consider to be very professional and high-quality. I have confidence that CRS will learn from its mistakes and that this will never happen again.

    • abrookes says:

      Thanks for your helpful comments Robert. We are already working on 2012; and STWMs move back to Nathan Phillips Square is already approved, so that will also help a lot with our advance planning.

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