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E-punch Concerns for Event Volunteers
By Robert Lewis, updated significantly by Rosemary Johnson
BAOC has now been using e-punch since 2000, and it has become the norm for A-meets and B-meets. Competitors understand the use of the system, and count on it for fast accurate results and splits. Although there have been a few isolated problems with control units at events, most of e-punch has worked flawlessly and now contributes greatly to the enjoyment of the sport.
To reduce the number and skill level of volunteers required to operate the e-punch system, we have introduced the QuickStick software (developed by club member Mark Blair, operating on a MacBook) for use at "B" and "C" events. The simplicity of the software means that regular volunteers can easily man this station — we no longer need trained e-punch volunteers during the day! Please refer to the QuickStick Operation page for details.
This article does not so much describe how to run e-punch, but rather outlines how e-punch affects various aspects of an event. The article should be seen as an add-on to the Event Director's Guide. Let's look at the various areas.
The Event Director and the BAOC E-punch Director jointly decide if an event is to use e-punch. It is mandatory that all A-meets use e-punch, and is the "norm" for all B-meets. An Event Director needs to justify why a particular B-level event should not use e-punch. E-punch may be used at C-level events. Since 2007, we have also been offering EP on the White and Yellow courses when previously it was only used on intermediate and advanced courses. Although beginners do not usually own a finger stick, we have increased our inventory of rental sticks, and the advantages (faster, more accurate results, pleasure that beginners get out of using EP, the ED does not have to manually calculate, type up, and post results) outweigh the extra effort the EP and registration crews have.
BAOC now (as of October 2011) owns approximately 97 small blue (BSF-8) control units and 50 large black (BSF-7) units. The blue control units are pre-programmed with numbers starting with 31 up to 133, except for 66, 68, 86, 89, 98, and 99, which could be mistaken for each other. The black units (numbered 150–199) are generally used by the Juniors, except for multi-day events where all the units may be used.
The Course Setter needs to provide the e-punch team with the Condes export file in IOF XML format, so that the control numbers and courses can be imported into the EP database. This needs to be done at least one day before the event, and preferably as early as possible.
All of the units, including the Start, Finish, Clear, and Check units, should be synchronized with the Timemaster prior to placing out in the field. This erases any previous punches from the unit, and synchronizes the time of all units so accurate results and splits will be obtained. Units wake up when a finger stick is inserted into the unit, and stay on for 4 hours after the last finger stick has been punched.
Controls are preferably set out on stands, but may be hung from branches. Control stands have plastic holders that the units snap into. Hanging controls on branches requires a special technique. Since the clip on the end of the control bag string does not fit through the hole in the e-punch unit, a loop should be made in the string and passed through the hole. The clip can then be passed through the loop, allowing for easy hanging.
Helpers involved in set-out should avoid having cell phones near the e-punch units. They should also refrain from attaching the units to the stands until the stand has been firmly placed in its final location.
Prior to an event, the Event Director will announce which courses will be using e-punch. If a competitor does not have his/her own e-punch stick, he/she will need to rent one. Registration will have a supply of rental e-sticks.
All competitors need to check in at the e-punch computer after registration, before going to the Start, whether the e-stick is rented or owned. The check-in places the name(s) in the database so that the Event Director and E-punch know who is out on course. This is invaluable at course closing time to see if a Search & Rescue is required.
E-punch (computer center)
The e-punch team takes responsibilities before and after an event. Before, they must get the course information from the Course Setter (or Event Director) in order to set up the event database. The day of the event, the e-punch team is responsible for setting up the computer center (laptop and printer) and guiding volunteers on operation of the computer during the event. Volunteers ensure that participants check-in before going out on course, and download after coming in from the field, whether the course is completed or not. Also, they are responsible for collecting rental e-sticks after download. E-punch volunteers ensure split sheets are available for competitors, and general results are printed out and displayed on a regular basis. After the event, the e-punch team is responsible for posting final results to the Bay-O-Net for use on the website and in the bulletin, as well as split files posted on WinSplits and provided to the RouteGadget coordinator and rankings coordinator.
Those giving beginner clinics should explain the e-punch process. Competitors should be shown how to wear the stick on their fingers and how to punch at a control unit. Competitors should be told about using the Clear and Check units prior to their assigned start time. They should be told that their "actual" start time is when they punch the Start unit. They should be told that, if they encounter a control unit that does not seem to work (no light and/or beep), they should manually punch their map. They should be told to punch the Finish unit at the Finish line to get completed results and not be disqualified or "dnf-ed". They should be told that they need to download their results into the computer and return their stick (if it is a rental) at the computer download station upon completing the course. They should be reminded that they need to be back at the Finish line by the course closing time.
The starter should remind the competitor to cycle through the Clear and Check units to ensure data from all previous courses is removed from the stick. The starter should remind beginners to be sure to punch the Start and Finish units at the beginning and end of the course. The starter should remind the competitor to use manual punching (on the map is fine) for any unit that does not seem to be working.
The starter should make one last reminder to the competitor of the closing time on the course. At the "target start time", the competitor should insert his stick into the Start unit to begin his timing of the race.
Personnel manning the Finish line should ensure that each competitor "punches" the Finish unit. They should then remind them to download results from their stick at the computer download station as soon as possible.
E-punch results will be posted at the event by course and updated periodically. At A-meets, and special other events, results will also be posted by "class", generally an age group category.
The e-punch team will post results after the event on the Bay-O-Net and send the results text file to the webmasters for posting. The splits file, which is a listing of individual leg and cumulative splits for each competitor, will be posted to the WinSplits website and the link posted to the Bay-O-net and the BAOC website. This file will also be sent to the appropriate coordinators for use in RouteGadget (website where competitors can draw their route choices) and for club rankings.
During control pickup, there can be up to three items to be retrieved at each station: the electronic control unit, its metal stand, and the control bag (of course, there is more at a control with water). To avoid losing any of the e-punch units, each unit should be removed from the metal stand in the field, and stored safely in a bag or backpack.
It should be noted that a "turn off" time is programmed into each unit at an event. At the designated time (usually about two hours after course closure) the unit will beep one last time and then shut off. This can be quite an experience for someone doing control pickup that has a pack with 15 of these units all shutting down at the same time.
When events occur weekly during peak O season, field units will generally be passed directly from Course Setter/Event Director to Course Setter/Event Director. When there is a significant break between events, the e-punch team will take control of the units to check inventory and battery levels.