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Rottnest Channel Swim
The 2018 Rottnest Channel Swim through the eyes of a Resilience Manager.

Attracting seasoned and experienced resilience consultants sit at the core of every successful consulting company. The RiskLogic team are not only employees of the organisation, but they are part of the family – so much so that consultants live and breathe resilience outside of the work environment. Meet Henry Shepherd. Henry is a Manager at RiskLogic and even during extracurricular activities, Henry’s mindset is ‘always on’ with Crisis Management.

In late February, Henry participated in the Rottnest Channel Swim with approximately 2,500 other swimmers. Organised by the Rottnest Channel Swim Association (RCSA), the Rottnest Channel Swim is a 20km swim consisting of solo, duos and teams of four. The swim starts from Cottesloe Beach (WA) with the finishing line at Rottnest Island. Swimmers could be battling big swells, strong currents, stingers and even sharks – it’s certainly not an event for the faint-hearted! It so happened that during this particular event, a great white shark decided to join in on the fun. The chaos that ensued saw hundreds of swimmers (including Henry, our resident swimmer) withdrawn from the race. In addition to the visit from the fishy swimmer, other incidents occurred during the day resulting in the RCSA implementing their safety plan.

What happened next was expected of a Resilience Manager. Henry went into problem solving mode. With an eagle eye, Henry assessed and observed the situation from his point of view and in typical resilience style noted the challenges, what worked well and what critical steps could be improved. These observations and learnings were then brought back into the office and used as case studies for clients within the same industry. Like all Resilience Consultants at RiskLogic, Henry is ‘always on’. A strategy that has enabled Henry to continually grow his knowledge and experience within the field of Business Resilience.

Here is a summary of Henry’s observations of the Rottnest Channel Swim:

The Challenges

  • Potential shark attack
  • Multiple withdrawals from the race due to choppy conditions.
  • Swimmers continuing past safety markers unsupported.
  • Support staff assisting support crews finding their lost swimmers, all within the first 1500m.
  • Capsized boats, sinking boats and multiple boats with engine failures.
  • Flares being shot and Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) being activated.
  • Multiple medical evacuations, including hypothermia, nausea and exhaustion. Even a broken finger nail was reported over the radio.

What worked Well

  • Triaging Tasks – Safety Staff addressed the incidents as they occurred. Whilst the shark was a genuine concern, it would only be a chance occurrence. The priority is to respond to the incident that has already occurred, whilst considering possible events, i.e. assist the boat with engine failure and medically evacuate casualties, whilst monitoring the shark.
  • Control Measures and Response Strategies – There were clear safety measures in place with provisions being made for including lost swimmers and shark sightings.
  • Pre-race Brief – RSCA delivered a well-presented brief and video pre-race and at organised meetings. The video was also published and made available on the website. This allowed for local, interstate and international competitors. The brief provided clear instructions and set expectations for swimmers and support crews.
  • Post Incident Report – within 2 weeks of the race finish, a questionnaire was sent to all swimmers and support crews requesting feedback on the race. This questionnaire included a tailored specific set of questions to identify points regarding the decision around withdrawing swimmers.

Room for Improvement

Whilst the RCSA did a great job in controlling an incredibly complicated and dynamic environment, there are always areas for improvement.

  • Communications – The single dedicated VHF channel meant those with genuine needs for assistance were endangered by the ‘congestion’ of the radio with unnecessary ‘chatter’ in response to the shark sittings and withdrawal of swimmers.
  • Situational Reports – It can take time to make decisions. It is important to keep everyone informed when decisions will be made, or when updates will be provided. This will prevent frustration and confusion as to what is happening.

Lessons Learned

Was the race a success? Even as a withdrawn swimmer, I certainly think it was. Was the right decision made? I firmly believe so. Had there been a shark attack and no action taken, it would be potentially the end of one of the greatest swimming events.

So, what did we learn about having a plan?

  • Include a detailed Communications Strategy which:
    • Indicates time frames for Situational Reports.
    • Consider having two radio channels; 1) a Race Net for updates on conditions, assisting lost swimmers, and 2) a Safety Net, for medical emergencies and boats in trouble
    • As staff personnel were positioned along varying legs of the race, consider tools which could improve the rate of communication. ie CQCommand
  • Ensure you have identified likely threats and prepared appropriate response strategies. This will enable efficient decision making and reduce pressure in an already stressful environment.
  • Always conduct a Post Incident Report. Learn from previous events and always look to improve.

I’ll be back in 2019 and making sure I cross the finish line.

~Henry Shepherd~

Henry is a Manager in RiskLogic’s business resilience practice. Henry has over eight years of experience working throughout Australia in a wide variety of industries including the government, legal, construction, retail and hospitality. Henry is responsible for supporting, implementing and managing all aspects of the Business Continuity lifecycle.