Good Night, Irene: Convention Centers Shrug Off Hurricane

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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New York, NY – A light weekend calendar and a little luck prevented Hurricane Irene from causing much damage or disruption to trade show operations in the East Coast.

Most facilities were dark as Irene swept north from the Carolinas to New England and there were only a few major events in the region heading into the Labor Day weekend.

Alirline travel nationwide was seriously affected by Irene,  and the offices of some show organizers and suppliers in the area told Trade Show Executive (TSE) they experienced power and telephone outages that lasted into the following week. However, convention centers were unscathed and were back in business by August 29. “We had a full ‘Irene plan’ in place and fortunately, Boston had minimal damage,” James Rooney, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, told TSE. “Our building held up well.”

Irene appeared to be largely unnoticed by the crowd attending the August 27-30 National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) 2011 Pharmacy & Technology Conference at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. The NACDS conference was the only significant exhibition or conference on the calendar in the hurricane zone.

The Baltimore Summer Antiques Show took place as scheduled at the Baltimore Convention Center. The expo portion of the World Police and Fire Games & Expo at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center was shortened by a day.

The Atlantic City Convention Center was dark during the weekend although it was pressed into service as staging area for buses carrying evacuees. “We held up very well and the building had no issues at all,” said Gary Musich, vice president of convention development for the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority. “All convention center operations were back to normal immediately.”

The Virginia Beach Convention Center, which is set away from the coast, was one of the first venues to be tested by Irene and rode out the storm in good shape. “The building held up well,” said General Manager Courtney Dyer. “There were a few small leaks from driving rain but no damage. Virginia Beach held up surprisingly well considering the eye of the hurricane passed about 20 miles off shore.”

Irene came and went just in time to allow the Myrtle Beach Convention Center to host the August 29 opening of the Golf.com World Amateur Handicap Championship and its associated golf equipment exposition.

“The convention center is two blocks from the oceanfront and we made preparations upfront such as  moving outside furniture in and checking that all outside equipment was secure,” said General Manager Paul Edwards.

Hargrove Shuffle
The wet and windy weekend in Washington, DC  kept the team busy. The Maryland company handled the set-up for the dedication of the Martin Luther King memorial on the National Mall and its connected festivities.

The event was postponed late Thursday after Hargrove had made extensive preparations involving 10 semi-truck trailers packed with gear plus 400 port-a-johns. In addition to a huge crowd, the dedication was expected to draw numerous VIPs from President Obama on down.

“Hundreds of thousands of attendees were expected on Sunday, and we had a large volume of equipment in place on the National Mall including 10 linear miles of bike rack, 30,000 chairs and significant staging,” CEO Tim McGill told TSE. “We were ready to respond to a change of plans and had undertaken an exhaustive review of our safety procedures and are organizing staff training.”

“We’ve already moved a gala earlier this week due to the earthquake,” McGill added.

Reach James Rooney at (617) 954-2470 or jrooney@massconvention.com; Gary Musich at (609) 449-7110 or gmusich@accva.com; Tim McGill at (301) 306-9000 or tmcgill@hargroveinc.com; Courtney Dyer at (757) 385-2000 or cdyer@visitvirginiabeach.com; Paul Edwards at (800) 537-1690 or pedwards@cityofmyrtlebeach.com; Jennifer Sargeant, manager, NACDS Foundation programs and education, at (703) 837-4224 or jsargeant@nacds.org