Skip to main content

Mapping the Glasgow Games

By Peter Fitzgibbon - 25th October 2014 - 09:28

Iain Paton pens a refereshingly candid view of the process employed and lessons learned in implementing a GIS for a world-class event

The XX Commonwealth Games took place over the period 23 July to 3 August and featured 17 world-class sports at 14 venues in Glasgow and across Scotland. Ticket sales topped the million mark and a lavish programme of cultural festivities included a Queen’s Baton Relay that traversed 70 nations and territories on its way to the opening ceremony. The scale of the event was unprecedented in Scotland and was many years in the planning, including permanent structures and new infrastructure that focussed on regenerating Glasgow’s East End.

As would be expected, mapping played a central role: from CAD designs for venues and temporary structures to glossy spectator guides, maps and drawings were integral to planning and operations. However, at the outset of the process, mapping was not integrated across the Organising Committee’s business, being viewed mainly as an activity to support discrete operational planning and desktop publishing work streams.

Drawing on experience

The experience of the London 2012 Olympics offered detailed insights into the role of GIS and mapping in meeting the challenges of operational planning and delivery and provided a starting point. Knowledge freshly gathered by the London 2012 Organising Committee and Olympic Delivery Authority proved invaluable, as did advice offered by Ordnance Survey and Esri UK. One of the first steps taken in late 2012 was to establish a GIS User Working Group whose members represented key public agency stakeholders, not least Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government. The Group met monthly to discuss data

sharing and approaches to meeting the considerable challenges of mapping the Games.

As a key partner, Ordnance Survey conducted extensive surveying and mapping in support of the Games as a national task, with products made available under the One Scotland Mapping Agreement. It also provided detailed technical advice and support, most notably in aligning the home leg of the Queen’s Baton Relay to the Integrated Transport Network layer of OS MasterMap.

Developing a GIS capability

Also in late 2012, the development of a basic GIS capability was initiated, being based on a shared spreadsheet of proposed road closures for security and operational traffic management purposes. This exercise continued until the close of the Games. GIS-specific staff were recruited and these used Esri’s ArcGIS Desktop and ArcReader/PDF to share operational planning maps until it was decided to employ ArcGIS Online (AGOL) for internal data sharing among a wider group of 50 users.

The GIS team stabilised with a complement of six members of staff by early 2014 although the demand for AGOL licences quickly outstripped supply as the popularity of the system increased for routine map-based planning. The latter included the mapping of road restrictions, venue transport operational plans, the Games Route Network, detailed athlete bus system routing, spectator ingress and egress routing, security deployment planning and the detailed routing and management of the marathon and road races. Eventually, 450 user accounts were issued for access to AGOL of which 250 were actively used.

As well as operational planning, particularly across workstreams for integration purposes, GIS was used to prepare the bulk of public-facing print and digital mapping. However, it was necessary to employ Safe Software’s FME product to integrate and translate the detailed CAD technical drawings for venues, stripping out unnecessary features and re-projecting as necessary. When overlaid with spectator routes and other layers, this provided the necessary detail for spectator venue guides, overlaid in ArcGIS Desktop and published in Adobe Illustrator format for desktop publishing development.

Time for Games

The culmination of the journey was at Games Time, i.e., from early July 2014 onwards. ArcGIS Online was used to prepare detailed operational maps on a phased basis to support (1) athlete arrivals in the city; (2) the Queen’s Baton Relay routing in the city; (3) the Opening Ceremony; (4) each day’s active venues and vehicle/spectator routings; (5) the Closing Ceremony; and (6) athlete departures. A large-screen map was located in the Transport Operations at Games Headquarters, shared with the multi-work stream Games Operations Centre and the Transport Co-ordination Centre, working across agencies and operators. Initially a situational-awareness and decision-support tool, the AGOL daily map was used to proactively identify likely hot-spots based on the potential for conflict between athlete vehicles, general traffic and spectator movements.

Aided by a prolonged spell of fine weather, the Games were a spectacular success for Glasgow and for Scotland. GIS played a role in this achievement, but thanks to a fortunate lack of major multi-agency incidents, was not tested at full stretch in terms of its resilience and redundancy.

Lessons learned

Perhaps one should add that, despite the best available advice, the GIS capability for the Games evolved on something of an ad-hoc rather than planned basis. The time taken to develop systems, security and business cases occasionally led to missed milestones and delays in procurement. Again, a relatively late roll-out of 1,000 AGOL user accounts somewhat missed the opportunity to exploit the system for maximum operational benefit. Data management was a continual challenge and insufficient staff were on hand to fully support this task.

Despite these shortcomings, GIS was integral to the success of the Games and highlighted the importance of developing a proper GIS infrastructure for planning and delivering events of this scale.

Summary of Positives and Negatives
Key Positives Key Negatives Potential Mitigations
GIS used successfully at all stages of the Games planning and operations, including transport planning and integration of map data for external distribution Deployment of GIS typically too late; in particular, key window was missed in procuring FME and support to Publications which would have significantly reduced map production time Early understanding of end-to-end and cross-organisational requirements for map production would have identified the need for GIS at the scoping stage and allowed greater integration
Good relationships established with the GIS community - in particular, the Scottish Government, Glasgow City Council and Ordnance Survey (OS) through the monthly GIS User Working Group Difficult to promote the collective benefit of GIS across the organisation (no cross-departmental owner of the requirement or capability, even though multiple beneficiaries A senior sponsor - at director level - for spatial data and mappig could have broken down silo barriers more effectively to maximise collective benefit realisation
Close working with Glasgow City Council and OS under the One Scotland Mapping Agreement gave access to the most up-to-date and detailed licensed base mapping Internal resistance and processes slowed implementation once procurement decisions had been taken
GIS provided the only method of integrating datasets across various FAs Too few GIS staff recruited too late in the day to achieve best value from the system. Experience of staff not fully recognised in the recruitment and remuneration process
Necessary spatial data shared with all external partners prior to Games Time Lack of dedicated Data Manager resulted in a general skills gap in data management (treated as a part-time activity due to work pressure)
Good use made of GIS in particular instances, e.g. analysing and sharing ticket sales data with key stakeholders. Similarly, mapping of Games Route Network and demand modelling for police deployment planning No credible internal Quality Assurance system for datasets
System used extensively by client group bus systems managers in route planning Internal data sharing not fully realised until two months prior to Games Time, with the expanded ArcGIS Onlne system, and use of this system for web map production not fully realised
GIS provided an essential situational awareness and decision support picture at Games Time (e.g., used in the Transport Operations Centre where key Games datasets were overlaid against detailed mapping and imagery) Without the support of Ordnance Survey at no additional cost, it is difficult to envisage how the Queen's Baton Relay mapping requirement would have been met
Road and traffic management planning never fully integrated: the range of organisations (OC Security and Transport; two external consultancies responsible for local area traffic management and parking planning and the Games Route Network, and also Glasgow City Council departments) made this difficult and earlier availability of the full GIS capability and datasets could have avoided the need to make ad-hoc orders at Games Time

Iain Paton is Spatial Information Project Manager at The Improvement Service and was formerly GIS Manager at Glasgow 2014 Limited (, the company responsible for delivering the XX Commonwealth Games.

Captions to illustrations above (click image to pause)

1. Fireworks over the Clyde in the finale to the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Photo © Chris G Walker / Shutterstock

2. Top left: Security deployment dotplanning map around the Ibrox Rugby Sevens venue. Top right: Local Area Traffic Management Plan mapping around the Commonwealth Games Village. Lower left: Detailed mapping of operational spaces and checkpoint operations

3. Venue Guides, such as this publication for the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, made extensive use of mapping to assist spectators. Background image

Read More: GIS Cloud Computing Emergency Services Marketing & Sales Transport & Logistics Municipal Government Travel & Tourism

Subscribe to our newsletter

Stay updated on the latest technology, innovation product arrivals and exciting offers to your inbox.