John Bertsch: World Championship Security
“Without a doubt, leadership is about getting everyone to play nice.”
“When did Iget programmed? I’d have to say my mom was a huge contributor to molding my altruistic mindset growing up. My Mom never drove by someone or something in need. We’d always say, ‘Oh mom, don’t stop. Not again!’ But she always did.” And with that Bertsch has been an enthusiastic volunteer and then ‘CSO’ to make communities and events better through solid risk management and resilience.
The IRONMAN® Triathlon World Championship in Kailua Kona, Hawaii, is the most coveted and most difficult triathlon race to enter in the world. It’s where both top amateurs and professionals from around the globe get to compete side by side. You need to be either a top pro in the pro-points rating program or a top winning age group athlete to even get invited to race. The athletic field capacity has fewer than 2,000 athletes on the starting line. With hundreds of thousands of athletes vying to get to race, those that make it will ultimately have this one-time shot at racing. Bertsch’s job is to get them across that finish line without them ever knowing the security team is there. Preparation and organizational leadership are paramount for success.
“Without a doubt the most unique challenge is our remote location,” Bertsch explains. “Hosting a worldwide outdoor endurance event spanning 140.6 miles on a tropical volcanic Hawaiian island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has its own inherent challenges. Where do I start? We over-tax local EMS, so we have to provide 10 of our own makeshift ambulance vans operated by visiting doctors and first responders. We use every available law enforcement person from around the island regardless of agency affiliation and coordinate their efforts. We have to closely watch weather for approaching tropical storms that might create high winds or generate large summer surf and unpredictable seismic events anywhere around the 6,000 mile Pacific Ocean basin for destructive tsunamis (which we have had). We monitor the coastal waters for biological influences, (such as really big fish that bite), and we test the waters for contaminants that could cause health risks. With 20,000 people from around the world, how do you set the standard for safety? You just hope you make the right choices, and we endeavor to learn from the wrong ones.”
An IRONMAN® Finisher himself in 2006, this is a dream profession for Bertsch, who left and was called back to Hawaii by the lifestyle and beauty. Each time he immediately volunteered for the IRONMAN® and eventually he became the Director of Public Safety - Emergency Management.
The focus of all stakeholders is the integration, cooperation and unification of departments and agencies. “Without a doubt, leadership is about getting everyone to play nice. In my younger years, my focus was a combination of ‘control to impress’ and ‘lead by example.’ You tend to move about knowing that others are constantly watching and evaluating your every step. As I’ve become more comfortable in my skin, so to speak, my confidence in my leadership has transcended to be more diplomatic and delegatory. I often find myself encouraging the people I work with to step up to the plate. I provide them guidance and support their new thoughts as long as it is in concert with our overall mission. Plus it’s rewarding to see them grow and create new solutions to old problems.”
Strong leadership leads to strong contributions to the organization. The biggest contribution public safety makes to the IRONMAN® World Championship is unification. “In our event, much like many multi-national businesses, we have many far reaching facets,” he explains. “Each play an important role and need coordination and communications. Our model places the public safety department right in the middle. All other departments pipe all of their communications and coordination thru our Race Operations Center (AKA the ROCk) which enables collaboration.
“As a result, one of our most significant contributions to the IRONMAN® event and industry as whole has been our successful mission to develop a robust C3 program (Communications, Coordination and Control). Knowing our weakest link was introducing volunteer first responders from around the country to 140 miles of a volcanic island and asking them to respond to calls for service without the advantage of local knowledge. Our proprietary C3 system enables everyone to monitor asset location (GPS), accept and record incidents graphically and respond to them more effectively.”
And what interests a person outside work whose hobby is his career? “My family! I have coached my son William’s soccer team since he was 5 years old. William is entering High School, and he is on the cross country team, so we enter fun runs around the island together.” It should be noted that Bertsch currently is also the Police Commissioner for the Big Island of Hawaii Police Department.
- Economic Impact:$30 Million
- Security Budget:Confidential
- Crowd Control and VIP/Executive Protection
- Global Security Operations Center
- Information Technology
- Physical/Asset Protection (Not for Resale)
- Workforce Protection