More than 150 people came to the conference rooms at West Ham stadium in East London to hear about the vast project that is the organisation of the 2012 Olympics, and some of the risk management implications for the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), the host local authorities, the rail network and business in London.

The event, 2012: Risks and Reward, was the inaugural meeting of the Risk Federation, a grouping of risk-related organisations. AIRMIC is one of the founder members. The story that emerged was one of risk management across a project of “mind blowing scale”, as David Law of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) put it.

Preparing the 670 acre Olympic Park and 15 other venues is the largest peace time project in the UK, and it all has to be ready on time. As Law commented, “The time is not flexible.” Those involved are aware, he said, “The United Kingdom has a chequered history of delivered major projects. Very few have been delivered on time.”

As the second speaker, David Boss of Marsh said, “It is vital that we understand the risks that could lead to significant delay. For the Olympic Games, delay in completion is not an option.”

Boss listed a number of things that had gone wrong in previous Olympic Games, such as ceiling collapses, photography pits with no drains, not enough lifts for para-athletes and lack of back-up power supplies.

He pointed out that there would be quite a lot of uninsurable risks. Among them were the classic construction project hazard of unforeseen ground conditions, additional costs of working to keep on schedule in case of a major incident and more expensive, alternative venues if events had to be switched. “Forward planning is essential,” he said.

Security threats, transport disruption, communication network overloads, power cuts and staff shortages as employees take time off to go to the games, are all some of the possible effects that could affect businesses in and around London, explained Steve Yates of the Business Continuity Institute.

Marianne Wood of Newham Council, the local authority where the Olympic Park is located, brought everyone back to the positive aspects of the games. In the council's eyes, she said, “The games are a great opportunity. They will bring great benefit to East London.”

The Risk Federation chose the Olympic Games as the subject of its first event because of the relevance to its members who, in addition to AIRMIC, are the public sector risk management association, ALARM, Business Continuity Institute (BCI) and Institute of Risk Management (IRM). Members of the federation were delighted with the success of 2012: Risks and Rewards and plan to hold a similar event every year.