Monday, 27 June 2011

Glastonbury Festival vs. London 2012 - the truth about toilets!

The cancellation of Glastonbury in 2012 has led to a large amount of speculation particularly in relation to temporary toilet provision. The inevitable increase in cost of supply because of a potential shortage of toilets units was quoted as being of secondary importance. So let’s look at the facts.
The provision of an adequate number of toilets at Glastonbury should be just a matter of pure logistics since there is adequate guidance available to the event organiser as to the correct ratio of toilets to event visitors –this is given in the event industry’s bible, the Event Safety Guide (the so-called Purple Book).
Where the problems often start (but not finish) is that event organisers look at projected income and outgoings and then in a bid to save money, reduce the numbers of toilets for visitors (they wouldn’t dare do this for the performers’ toilets of courses). In addition, since toilets at music and other festivals tend to be subjected to a fair amount of abuse and misuse, many of the toilets provided are not quite up to scratch – would you put one of your best toilet units on site only to see it wrecked by a small number of idiots? Of course you wouldn’t!
The choice between a ‘long drop’ (a term which is often used in a derogatory way) and a recirculating (flushing) toilet is not quite as awful as it may sound. Put simply, a long or straight drop toilet has a waste holding tank situated below the toilet bowl, the contents of which are hidden from sight by a hinged flap. Use the toilet and the flap opens, the waste then drops into the tank. This type of toilet is simple but effective, and remarkably inoffensive to use. There is little odour given off and no offence caused to the user.
A recirculating toilet on the other hand, which is a much newer invention, can be very offensive, depending on the quality of its users. This type of toilet has a flushing system situated in the waste holding tank. Waste matter, the small amount of water placed in the tank before use and the toilet additive (‘toilet blue’) which is designed to kill off any potentially harmful bacteria  and control any odour,  are re-circulated and filtered when the hand or foot operated pump is activated by the user. There often lies the first problem – whether the pump is actually activated! Many toilet users fail to wash their hands or use gel after using a toilet and many also fail to flush! The use of a re-circulating toilet is therefore in the hands of its users!
The second problem is that if you stir human waste matter, you introduce oxygen and therefore it smells. The third problem is whether there is any toilet additive put into the tank in the first place, the fourth is whether the filter gets clogged, whether users drop foreign objects into the tank (it is not uncommon to find wellington boots, tee shirts and many other articles or apparel in tanks), and fifth whether the correct amount of water is added to the tank before the toilet is used next. There is also an advised ratio of water to toilet additive, something which is often overlooked, and which can prevent the toilet additive from doing its job.
However, even if all of the above potential hazards can be overcome, then the entire process (regardless of which type of single toilet unit is used) can be completely ruined by the event organiser not agreeing to provide the correct and appropriate level of emptying, cleaning and back up service from its portable toilet provider. All portable toilets (except mains flushing units) have a finite tank holding capacity, when this is exceeded, the tank overflows, and the toilet will become unusable. An unwanted reputation of ‘nasty, smelly, disgusting’ etc, etc.. which is gained through no fault of the unit itself but a combination of circumstances.
It can be seen from the above that is not just toilet numbers that matter, but a complete package of measures. It is called ‘planning’!
Now let’s consider London 2012! At least eighteen months ago London 2012 planners LOCOG were warned about potentially severe shortages of many items including portable or temporary roadways, security fencing and portable toilets.  They chose to ignore those warnings, which came from industry experts and suppliers who were aware (apparently LOCOG was not) that other major events would not be cancelled, either in the lead-up to London 2012 or during the Games themselves. Given a choice of supplying an annual event and a ‘once every 40 year’ event the decision was a ‘no-brainer’. There is only so much equipment available in the UK, much of which is manufactured, installed/erected to comply with stringent UK regulations. Once booked (and many event organisers booked even earlier than usual to ensure their annual event did not suffer from a lack of equipment, the equipment is no longer available and simply cannot be replaced by equipment imported from elsewhere in Europe (not without falling foul of HSE etc, etc…). Hence it would seem that Glastonbury’s decision, in the circumstances, is a sound one!
This of course still bodes ill for London 2012, since the numbers of items needed for a successful Olympic Games are quite staggering. Decisions and follow-up actions should have been taken many months ago. This doesn't seem to have happened, and whilst the UK event industry has great sympathy for London 2012 and wishes success for the Games and all who participate or watch, the industry cannot help but wonder just why LOCOG has not engaged more directly with the many thousands of experts in the UK. Most of these, I believe, would have willingly given their time and the benefit of their advice to help LOCOG choose the correct path to follow, but it is almost too late now with only twelve months to go!     

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