A Primer on International Association Conferences and Events – Who They Are, What Countries and Cities They Select as Event Locations and, How Do They Conduct Business

As part of my consulting practice I either subscribe to newsletters regarding the convention and meetings industry or receive news alerts on related subjects. There are many, and hardly a week goes by when there is not one or more press releases celebrating a city’s booking of an important international event. These are not usual press releases but often newspaper and business journal articles. The articles are all very upbeat as if the city convention bureau had just won a lucrative piece of international business in a very competitive contest.  Articles usually conclude with a statement validating the city’s status and place in the world as an international city.

What Are International Association Events?

Market Definition and Size – For this article International association meetings and conferences are owned and operated by not-for profit professional associations. Some of the international event names may sound familiar to you:

  • The World Congress of Surgery
  • Congress of the World Federation of Physical Therapy
  • World Diabetes Congress
  • Parliament of the World’s Religions
  • World Conference on Lung Cancer
  • World  Parkinson’s Congress

These associations are recognized as “international” and vetted by the Union of International Associations (UIA). They are carried by the Yearbook of International Organizations (a UIA publication). UIA defines the events or meetings as such:

Meetings taken into consideration include those organized and/or sponsored by the international organizations which appear in the Yearbook of International Organizations and in the International Congress Calendar, i.e. the sittings of their principal organs, congresses, conventions, symposia, regional sessions grouping several countries, as well as some national meetings with international participation organized by national branches of international associations.

In their report, UIA’s international event numbers for 2014 were 12,350. The events in 2014 would play in one of 178 countries and 1,449 cities. The top ten countries and cities for 2015 are shown below:

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UIA’s annual International Meetings Statistics Report 57th edition – June 2016 categorizes the events using statistics such as:

  • Whether the event is “ organized or sponsored by “international organizations”, i.e. international  non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) that are included in the UIA’s Yearbook of International Organizations and whose details are subject to systematic collection and updates on an annual basis by the UIA”
  • Dates and Location
  • Size (expressed as number of participants or attendees)
  • Percentage of international attendees (40% minimum).

The last bullet above is important because it is the basis for establishing value when compared to domestic events. UIA also maintains a history of each event’s location back to 2001. This date range of event history is essential for determining predictable rotation patterns and calculating probabilities for successful bookings. The only shortcoming we find in the UIA material is that some events are in fact regional. An example is an international association which is in fact a European only association. Their annual conferences will never occur in Asia, Africa, Australia or the Americas. Therefore the UIA summary statistics related to international events not limited to regions are probably overstated.

There are other association and event directories such as the International Convention Centre Association (ICCA). In comparing to UIA there are big differences which we believe are related to the definition of international association events. For our purposes the UIA statistics are the most comprehensive and reliable directory of international events. Clearly any CVB or convention center pursuing events in this market would have to research and drill down in order to eliminate the improbable and focus on the possible. We believe UIA can provide this information. Their research findings and data base is available for a fee (about $1,500). You can also have research available on a continuous basis for a subscriber fee.

 

Bookings for International Events Comparing North American Cities to the Rest of the World

Without purchasing or referencing UIA’s publications, we were able to find some useful directories which show how competitive North American cities are in booking international events. In this instance we found some timely statistics in two sources:

  • The OMICS International Conferences website https://www.omicsonline.org/international-scientific-conferences/ . OMICS International organizes as many as 1,000 International Science conferences. These conferences attract world renowned personalities, scientists, entrepreneurs, budding scientists, students and policy makers. OMICS International organizes Science Congress, World Summits, and International science conferences in India, USA, Dubai, Australia and Europe. OMICS also publishes scientific journals for some of the international associations.

The tables below show the number and percentage for individual countries and cities for international scientific, medical and health science and engineering  conferences produced in 2016 (later half) and 2017. There are no social or behavioral science events listed. These type events are the most prestigious of international conferences. Overall there are 933 events combined from both sources.

 

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The data in the tables above, because they represent such a small amount of years, lack strong statistical validity and don’t compare with the long term, more comprehensive data that could be obtained by consulting UIA’s data base and research files. The tables above are useful and interesting because they infer how strong the US is in the scientific fields as well as showing destination appeal for the US and certain US cities.

What Criteria Do these Associations Consider in Making Event Location and Venue Decisions?

In many respects the criteria are similar to the criteria used for a tradeshow or domestic association meeting. There are however differences especially the priority of certain criteria. From the literature and case studies we researched, these are the principal and secondary criteria that are evaluated in making event location decisions:

  • Air Transport Accessibility
    • Direct flights from major centrally located cities
    • Cost, Frequency and Duration of Flights – Includes information of necessary connecting flights
    • Administrative Barriers – Visa and customs issues
  • Local Support
    • Welcoming assistance from the local association chapter and other prominent like-professionals and academics. Some cities have gone much further than an opportunistic one-off effort. The term “Ambassador Program” has taken hold. It is defined as a loose association of community leaders in advanced industries and scientific fields used to attract conventions in their specific field. This type of collaboration has been around for many years but in the past few years destinations around the world are now developing the concept more strategically and aggressively. Many European cities have well developed Ambassador Organizations. Washington DC and Vancouver have initiated similar programs and report that they are already yielding success. This program also assumes networking possibilities with local industry leaders.
    • Planning, logistic and marketing support from the city CVB
  • Subventions (subsidies)
    • Perhaps this should be listed first. Those operators in CVBs and convention centers to whom I have spoken with agree that this decision making criteria is the most important. Typical subventions are; meeting venue rent free, free hotel accommodations and meals for association leadership, direct subsidy for marketing and other general expenses, a hosted reception and dinner provided by the hosting city or institution ( a research university is a good example), loans for marketing before registration fees are received,  arranged excursions for city tourist sites and venues and shopping.
  • Meeting facilities
    • Number, size and configuration of meeting rooms
    • Appearance of the meeting rooms
    • Special services – Advanced A/V, simultaneous translation systems, F&B catering quality
    • Advanced communications – Broadband services (WiFi), reliable cell service
    • Customer service by venue staff
  • Other
    • The novelty and cultural uniqueness of the city
    • Safety and security of the city
    • A pleasant climate
    • Hotel proximity to meeting venue
    • Profitability – At some point the international association is going to take a serious look at how profitable the event would be at a given location. This process and evaluation would take place after a review of proposals.
    • Association promotion – The association’s main interest is whether the chosen location would add credibility and prestige to the association and build membership.

Clearly any CVB or convention center pursuing events in this market would have to research and drill down in order to eliminate the improbable and focus on the possible. We believe UIA can provide this information. Their research findings and data base is available for a fee (about $1,500). You can also have research available on a continuous basis for a subscriber fee.

Determining the Economic Value of an International Event

  • Direct Spending
    Determining economic value is becoming more reliable over the past few years. For cities such as Las Vegas this data is fundamental – so much of the economy depends on it.  Also the due diligence required to finance the substantial physical infrastructure projects (airports improvements, public assembly venues, streets and transportation, general civic improvements) demands it. Most cities have an established direct spending figure for trade shows and convention visitors. The figure is derived from surveys and interviews of out-of-town visitors. No city conducts this research in as timely and comprehensive fashion as Las Vegas.For this brief analysis the percentage difference between a foreign and domestic visitor as reported in Las Vegas will be applied. In Las Vegas the percent difference in direct spending is as follows:

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The cause for higher International visitor spending is that they stay longer (about 1 day longer, 4.3 vs. 3.3 days) and they spend more. For example, an international visitor spends more than 100% on food and beverages, 250% more shopping and about 50% on entertainment (live shows). One outlier on visitor spending in Las Vegas which doesn’t exist in most US cities is gambling.

The suggestion here is that this or a similar percentage increase be applied when evaluating the value of international events. That is of course unless your city has conducted its own research. Las Vegas is in all cases a good reference check for spending differences and for research methods. Most cities will go on to parse and apply other economic benefits such as indirect spending, tax revenues, or service job creation to arrive at an overall impact number.

  • The Prestige Factor
    This factor is crucial for cities just developing or improving their tourism economy. International conference, congress and convention goers are business tourists. This adds a gravitas feature to the whole tourism sector. It gives an opportunity for the city and country to show off their airports, urban infrastructure as well as their hospitality sector – hotels, resorts, restaurants, conference and convention facilities, etc. In our research we found this to be often a national cause. Ireland, Cyprus, Malaysia and Korea’s national tourism branches of government all provide generous contributions to their cities and venues to use as subventions in order to attract international events. In sum, hosting international events fulfills national policy aims for recognition as a place to for global business. Global engagement is serious business.For US cities the prestige factor is present but not so pronounced. Some cities have been organized well and have succeeded in capturing a good fraction of the international events market – Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio, Las Vegas and Philadelphia. For others the industrial sector of an international event may represent a vertical market that represents the city’s economic base. In this respect international events can contribute to economic development of an emerging knowledge based industry.


If you’re Going to Pursue International Conferences, then……..

  •  Do Proper Research First
    •  Understand that you’re entering a global competition with many more competitors, some with a great deal of experience. Know that your probability of booking success will be very low at first.
    • Look for events with recognizable rotation patterns. See when they rotate to the US and learn where in the US they’ve played before. Be careful of associations that have no pattern but choose locations at random.
    • Find what fits – airport/travel scheduling and issues, dates, space, space configurations, sector affinity with your city. The preferred venues are hotels. The cozy, more intimate surroundings are preferable to convention centers. Also, international events tend to be smaller than domestic.
    • Do the math. Prepare some simulations. Use actual attendance data from 5 or more international conferences and calculate the economic impact of the event. Make certain that your estimate of international attendees seems reasonable. Highlight the value added for international attendees.
    • Don’t expect large crowds. Yes, there are some with recorded attendance of 10,000 up to 18,000. These events are not the norm however. They are mostly well under 5,000 attendees.
  • If Your Intention Is to Pursue International Events at Full Bore, You Will Have to Add to Staff and Increase Certain Expenses
    •  Staff will most likely include a sales manager and assistant, a research manager and an office administrator. You could possibly contract out the research function.
    • Expenses besides salary will have to include separate T&E, higher than for domestic bookings, print and graphic services, and a promotional fund to fulfill subventions. About two years ago Washington DC organized to pursue international events. They staffed up in the fashion described above and went to work. In four years the economic impact from international events went from $2.5M in 2011 to $25.5M in 2015.
    • If this seems too much or even unnecessary, perhaps a better strategy is to be selective and pursue only the most profitable and economically favorable international events
  •  Be Prepared for a Heavy Work Load
    •  Canvassing and pursuing eligibility for RFPs is time consuming and can be expensive. Click on the link to view an RFP for an international event – The World Federation of the Deaf. https://www.wfdeaf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/WFDConf_2017.pdf
    • Preparing your proposal and negotiating until closing is also time consuming and expensive. As an example, click on the link for Barcelona’s proposal for The Conference of The International Biometric Society – http://www.biometricsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/ibs-2018-bid.pdf . This conference only has about 1,200 attendees.
    • Organizing, maintaining and nurturing the Ambassador group, which appears to be a prerequisite for competing, takes a great deal of relationship building and persuasion. Your sales and marketing team will ultimately end up managing the group and acting as their administrative arm. Your team will at times perform most of the functions that a domestic trade show or convention management company would.
  •  Be Thoughtful about How You Will Deal with Subventions
    •  You won’t be subsidized by the federal government but in order to get a start in the market you may have to agree to subventions you would normally avoid. For small events the subventions are hard to justify. If your occupancy is high and the domestic event market filled with opportunities, then there is no compelling need to agree to expensive subventions. It would be best todisclosethis before entering a competitive bid. Rather, emphasize subventions which can be classifiedasvalue added and steer away from a straight cash subsidy.
    • An interesting study of subventions was done by a consulting group in the UK in 2011. The report shows how subventions are material to location decisions and how they affect the competition for international events. You should click on the link below, download and read the report:
    •  http://www.businessvisitsandeventspartnership.com/news/bvep-press-releases/112-bvep-launch-report-into-global-subvention-practices
    •  The chart below is from the report and is a summary (although dated) of city practices regarding subventions. It’s a good quick reference.

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Providing Air Conditioning and Heat on Exhibit Floors during Event Move In

This is a troublesome issue and always has been. Most recently the subject found itself on the agenda for an annual SISO meeting. My first impression was that SISO would take a policy stand, making it a critical customer service issue and pressing that air conditioning during move in should be provided at no charge. After a brief discussion with SISO leadership I learned that there is no formal SISO policy announcement and that there was true recognition and appreciation for a convention center’s high utility and operating costs.

Convention center designers have never really addressed this problem seriously or more likely, measures to make the event move in environment more tolerable were value engineered out of the project. The problem is generally widespread throughout the country from humidity prone, to bitter cold, to desert heat regions alike.

Why Is this Issue?  It Seems Small Compared to All that Matters

  • Excessive Heat and Humidity or Cold During Move In Is a Serious Customer Service Problem
    Exhibitors face many challenges during event move in; anticipating freight arrival, exhibit construction, testing equipment, final rehearsals, etc. Adding the annoyance of excessively hot or cold and uncomfortable conditions is poor customer service.
  • Providing Air Conditioning During Move In Is Very Expensive During the Summer
    Commercial electrical rate schedules are higher for summer months. In New York City for example peak months are June through September. Along with peak months there are peak hours. Utilities call this time of day rates covering daytime periods generally 8AM to 4 or 6PM, Monday through Friday (weekday holidays normally excluded). These rates .for electrical consumption (KWH) can be 30% -50% higher than non-peak hours.Electrical demand rates are also applied in the same manner as consumption. Depending on where you’re located, commercial demand rates can be 60% to more than 100% higher than demand rates during non-peak months.

Examples:

  1. (Atlanta) Georgia Power – Large Commercial Rates – Summer TOD 

    Assume air conditioning requires 4,000 Tons of refrigeration for 500,000 gross square feet of exhibition space on a weekday in July

                    Consumption (KWH): 4,000 Tons x 1.5 KW/Ton = 6,000 KW
6,000 KW x 10 hours = 60,000 KWH
60,000 KWH x $.07264/KWH = $4,358/Day

                    Demand (KW): 6,000 KW x $10.43/KW = $62,580*

                    Total Cost per Day: $4,358 + $62,580 = $66,938

*Demand charges only apply if the day’s demand (in a 15 or 30 minute interval) is
the highest for the monthly billing period. Fuel adjustment charges not in
calculations

  1. (New York City) NYPA and ConEd – NYPA for consumption or KWH purchased through the open market (NY is a de-regulated state). Con ED for distribution charges (demand) 

    Assume air conditioning requires 4,000 Tons of refrigeration for 500,000 gross square feet of exhibition space on a weekday in July 

    Consumption (KWH): 5,000 Tons x 1.5 KW/Ton = 6,000 KW
    6,000 KW x 10 hours = 60,000 KWH
    60,000 KWH x $.08/KWH = $4,800/Day 

    Demand (KW): 6,000 KW x $23.04/KW = $138,240* 

    Total Cost per Day: $4,800 + $138,240 = $143,040

             *Demand charges only apply if the day’s demand (in a 15 or 30 minute interval)
is the highest for    the monthly billing period. Taxes and fuel adjustment
charges not in calculations

The rates from Atlanta are relatively low. New York City rates are among the highest in the country. If anything, the above proves that air conditioning during move in days is no small matter. For show managers, paying for electrical consumption during move in is reasonable, paying for demand is not. In my time at the Javits Center I have seen monthly demand charges exceed $250,000. That was for a full building show (over 800,000 gross square feet, in August).  Convention center should never permit a move in day to become the highest day of the billing period for electric demand when it could be avoided.

  • Most Show Managers Can Understand the Economics of Peak Hour Costs for Electrical Consumption But Not So for Electrical Demand 

    Most annual convention center budgets have forecasted and factored in summer electrical demand charges. Facility managers know that there are not many opportunities for demand reduction measures like shedding loads as demand rises after the event begins. Seizing an opportunity to reduce summer demand charges therefore should not be missed. Imagine being in a situation where the move in day is hot and humid but the overnight forecast calls for a cool dry air mass for the event days. Imagine being in a situation where the move in day is on a Friday in July and the event is scheduled for a three day weekend with Monday as a holiday – no demand charges.  The monthly savings can be substantial. From time to time an issue may arise where at the last minute a show manager asks for air conditioning on a move in day well after peak hour pricing has begun. Facility managers do not want to start a central plant (chillers, pumps, air handlers, etc.) during peak hours. Doing so puts you at risk that a move in day will become the maximum billing day for demand that month, the savings opportunity lost. Chiller plants normally draw a lot of demand as they approach the chilled water set point. After they reach that point, demand generally diminishes. In this circumstance you would have to provide less than 100%.

Recommended Best Practices

  • Unless there are special circumstances you are advised not to provide air conditioning or heat during move in to event management at no charge. Most centers do charge. Some such as Mandalay Bay and the Mirage Convention Centers in Las Vegas provide air conditioning at no charge for the last event move in day. Some of you to whom I have spoken with say that at their center this matter is purposely left flexible. That may be a useful internal policy but it should be kept confidential, because the opposite is likely to happen, it won’t be flexible. Show managers are tough negotiators; they will sense an opportunity and persuade you to absorb the cost. There should be a clear written policy for charging for air conditioning and heat on move in days
  • Do not make air conditioning and heat during move in part of the rent. Too often rent is negotiated down in order to maintain and improve market share or to accommodate a large event where the overall economic impact is very high. Also, there are circumstances where temperature and humidity ranges need to be controlled during move in. A commercial produce show is an example. Air conditioning charges during move in should be specified as a separate item in the license agreement,
  • Make the charges for air conditioning and heat during move ins fair, enough to cover consumption charges from utilities,
  • Always supply some air conditioning, say 15% with exhaust fans and a few supply fans at no charge. Set a floor temperature goal of the low to mid 80’s for floor temperatures. For heating, do likewise and supply heat from air handlers adjacent to outside freight doors at no charge.
  • Take steps to manage demand on your own:
    • If the show manager won’t purchase air conditioning for move in days when high heat and humidity are forecast, pre-cool the space several hours before the move in starts and when non-peak rates are in effect. Keep the freight doors closed, close outside air dampers as no fresh air is necessary until the space is occupied. Then just before peak rates apply, reduce most of the air conditioning operations and follow the practices from the bullet above.ASHRAE has written a few white papers on pre-cooling. Below is an excerpt:

      Night precooking involves the circulation of cool air within a building during the nighttime hours with the intent of cooling the structure. The cooled structure is then able to serve as a heat sink during the daytime hours, reducing the mechanical cooling required. The naturally occurring thermal storage capacity of the building is thereby utilized to smooth the load curve and for potential energy savings.

      My experience is that this works for about 5 or 6 hours. Some level of air conditioning will may have to be left on.

    • If show management elects to purchase air conditioning for move in days, then pre-cool as outlined above only earlier. Do not commit to a floor temperature in the low to mid 70’s, the high 70’s and low 80’s are more achievable. On hot humid days this will also prevent ceiling drips from pipe and ductwork condensation. Pre-cooling should wash the humidity out of the building and provide positive pressure throughout. This should work to control electric demand. This should be done along with the items below regarding doors.
    • Exercise strict control over the freight doors. Close those that are not being well used. You should find most general decorating companies cooperative.
    • Consider transparent weather strips at the most used doors. They are an inexpensive fix but usually need to be changed frequently to maintain good visibility.
  • Investments that Work
    • The Washington DC Convention Center normally does not charge for air conditioning during move in days. To control costs they have converted their freight doors into “speed doors”
    • Washington has also connected one or two of their large chillers to an on-site generator. They can elect to air condition exhibit floors using their own power, avoiding peak hour consumption and demand costs.
    • Some may say that air curtains work but my experience has been that the large ones for freight doors are too drafty and noisy
    • Years ago designers at Cobo Hall designed a transition space between the loading dock doors and the exhibit floor. The barrier of a demising wall and inline freight doors helps temperature control on the exhibit floor.
    • In the 1990’s McCormick Place made a major investment in chilled water storage, producing chilled water at night and circulating it for a full days use. They also supply chilled water to other customers beyond the convention center. McCormick also uses Lake Michigan water for condenser water, no cooling towers.

9/11 at the Javits Center

Last week marked 15 years. We know now that the attack wasn’t just a one-time thing and now all convention centers have legitimate concerns about terrorism during an event. The Javits Center was a few miles from the attack but we had a view of the planes hitting and the WTC towers falling. The Javits Center did play a role in the aftermath, providing logistical support to the rescue, recovery and security teams. I believe we were able to use our assets effectively and in a small way contribute to the recovery effort.

The account below was written by me 6 years ago.

M. McGrane

Over the years many have asked if we could write an account of what happened to us that day. Our experience was insignificant compared to the events of that day, but perhaps there’s some lessons learned here if not an interesting story.

We had four events in the house that day; a large merchandise show on the lower level to open at 9AM, a store fixture and display show on the main level to open at 9:30AM, a commercial flower show also on the main level for the second move in day, and set up for a product roll out for an office technology company on the upper level. After the first plane hit at 8:45 AM the AGM called and told me he had a bad feeling about it, no one flies into the side of the World Trade Center on a bright clear day.  Neither the local news nor CNN which was being broadcast on all public monitors had any news on the real cause. The AGM called again and insisted that I go up to the Crystal Palace and view what was occurring downtown and in the center itself. I was at the base of the escalator to the Crystal Palace at 9:03 AM.  The view from the Javits Center had the two Trade Center towers overlapping so, if you weren’t familiar, it may appear as one large building. The second plane hit. The horizontal plume of flame and smoke made it look as if this was a secondary explosion from the first plane. CNN quickly corrected that. Both towers were aflame.

A quick meeting with all the show managers was assembled and we informed them that we were shutting down the loading docks and that there would be controlled access through the front entrances – attendees would have to go through designated doors under the view of Javits Security and State Police. There would be random checks of handbags and brief cases. We set a meeting time for 30 minutes later or sooner if we obtained any information. There were few questions and no one complained. Although unsaid, I believe everyone in the meeting had the sense that something menacing and ominous was going on downtown. It was about 9:20 AM.

Internal staff met for a time to organize radio procedures and to review evacuation plans. There was still no official word from the State Police about what was happening. All news came from CNN. We had arranged the show floor plans and compared them to the evacuation routes just before we made our way to the next information meeting with the show managers when CNN reported that the Pentagon had been hit. It was about 9:45 AM.

The big decisions were easy now and the meeting was brief. We would evacuate the center immediately; exhibitors, attendees and contractors were to follow the directions of Javits Security and the State Police since due to the loading dock closure some of the routes had changed. We would meet with show managers again as soon as practical. Everyone nodded in consent and the meeting ended. At 10:05 AM the South Tower collapsed and we saw everything disappear in an enormous cloud of dust. By 10:15 AM the Javits Center was evacuated. We estimate there were between 5,000 to 6,000 people. Then, at 10:28 AM the North Tower collapsed.

In the following hour tidbits of news and rumors came and went. We had a short lived moment of panic when news came down that the bridges and tunnels were likely targets too. The south tube of the Lincoln Tunnel was 25 feet below Hall 1A. The State Police quickly communicated with Port Authority Police and we learned that the Tunnel was evacuated and inspected. We were safe. Staff was dismissed and key people were selected to remain. Many volunteered to stay. At 11:02, the mayor ordered the evacuation of Lower Manhattan. What was happening was unbelievable.

At about noon, city emergency service personnel arrived and asked for help. They were covered in dust and soot. The only clean part of their faces was inside the outline of the face masks that they had been wearing. They needed to set up a triage center and a field hospital as soon as possible. While we explored the internet for plans, building maintenance staff quickly began to set up portable utilities, lighting and furnishings in the North Pavilion. Within the hour a medical team arrived. They left shortly afterward and headed off downtown. The casualties and injured would be handled closer to the WTC site. At about 1 PM one of our managers called me up to the South roof. The scene was like a war movie. A stream of people as far South as I could see were walking North on 12th Ave. From the heights they appeared as a ribbon of refugees fleeing a city under siege. The cloud of smoke from the World Trade Center was behind them.

The remainder of the day saw emergency crews arrive at Javits. At one point in order to create more space, the remaining managers and maintenance personnel took forklifts and hand trucks to move out the partially installed exhibit booths from the commercial flower show on the main level. Emergency crews came from New Jersey, that evening teams of “smoke jumpers” arrived from out West, teams of rescue dogs and their handlers arrived from all across the country and Canada, a large contingent of New York State Troopers arrived and finally the New York State National Guard. Our team set out utilities; electric, phone lines, internet lines, portable showers, etc., etc. Centerplate’s GM was busy too. That evening he prepared over 300 chicken and rice dinners. He had sent all his employees home and did this all by himself.

The next few days were like a blur. Rescue teams came and went. Javits became the storehouse for supplies, lots of bottled water and pet supplies for the dogs. We were announced as the rallying point for volunteers and they came by the thousands; tradesmen carrying tools, doctors carrying their medical kits, even a few crazies. The only volunteers needed that I recall were operating room nurses and welders trained for work in confined spaces. The President arrived one day to meet with the families of the dead and missing. A planned 1 hour visit became a 5 hour visit.

We learned that nothing can replace a well trained team of managers and skilled workers. We learned how invaluable it is to have permanently stationed police on site. It gives your actions in an emergency a strong sense of legitimacy. Convention center designers should remember that. We learned that convention centers because of their scale, large spaces, utility capacity and access are logical places to use when there’s a general emergency.  I know it sounds trite because it’s so often said, but we learned that people really do rise to the occasion when necessary and with a spirit I hadn’t seen before. We learned that trouble creates its own capacity to handle it.

God Bless America.

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