Software lights the way for torch relay

Perhaps it wasn't so easy, but not one to shy away from a challenge, Burnett, SOCOG's torch relay mapping and IT specialist, employed software from MapInfo Australia to plan one of the most complex parcel deliveries in the world.

SOCOG used MapInfo's flagship product, Professional v5.5, in conjunction with census information and mapping layers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics' C-Data 96 package, to keep the world's most prized Zippo burning brightly across the longest torch relay in the history of the Modern Games.

The torch took in 1,000 towns across every state and territory. Burnett claims one of the biggest challenges was to ensure the torch reached two cities a day that were large enough to host celebration receptions and accommodate the 50-vehicle convoy crew.

Besides the route map, Burnett used MapInfo software to provide logistical information for the 11,000 torchbearers, 2,500 escort runners and the support convoy.

"We developed 'convoy maps' for internal use to provide information to the convoy teams travelling with the torch," Burnett said. "They showed details such as the location of the hotels they stayed at each night, the location of all the Shell service stations along the route, and the local council compounds where the drivers cleaned their vehicles each night."

Burnett digitised the whole route in MapInfo Professional and matched that up with information he already had, such as details of each leg and changeover points for every torchbearer, as well as the slope gradient for each leg.

"We used the mapping software to validate a lot of information about the route that had been entered into the database by our team in the field. They went through the route more than three times, recording every street travelled on, every street intersection, and measuring distances," Burnett said.

But the torch didn't travel by road alone, and Burnett said the times in the relay when the torch passed via ferry, railway, surf boat (from Coogee Beach to Bondi) and underwater at the Great Barrier Reef, were when MapInfo proved invaluable by assessing distance and estimated travel time.

SOCOG picked up Olympic officials in Guam for the Oceania leg, and although Burnett had uniform data on Australia to work with, providing maps for the 13 countries before the torch reached the host nation proved more difficult.

"For Palau, we found GIF images on the internet which had been prepared by the CIA in 1968. We digitised them in MapInfo to get them into a format we could use for that stage of the relay," reflected Burnett.

Travelling at an average speed of 8.5km/h, Burnett claims the MapInfo software enabled the relay team to take into account the crowd sizes and security cavalcade which lined the torch's journey through most of Australia's largest cities. However, crowds "exceeded our expectations", in Sydney's King Street where surging onlookers delayed the torch.

As luck would have it, even the final few metres from the base of the cascading fountain in the Olympic Stadium to its resting place proved anxious times for Burnett.

"We breathed a pretty big sigh of relief when Cathy [Freeman] lit the final flame," Burnett said. "And when it got stuck, we were thinking, 'come on, come on, you've made it this far'.

"But it got there in the end."