ATLANTA — The 3.9 million square-foot Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) has become the first convention center in the U.S. to earn the Global BioRisk Advisory Council’s STAR accreditation for facility preparedness.
GBAC, a division of worldwide cleaning association ISSA, launched the third-party global STAR verification program this spring to enable commercial and public facilities to certify that they have established cleaning protocols, disinfection techniques, and work practices designed to minimize risks associated with infectious diseases such as the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
“We wanted to commit to ourselves, to our team members, and to our customers and their attendees that we would continue our dedication to cleaning and disinfection protocols that are at the highest levels they can be,” said Kevin Duvall, Chief Operating Officer, GWCC. “Having the GBAC STAR program help us validate that is an important step in the process.”
“In the wake of COVID-19, meeting planners, exhibitors, and attendees want assurances that venues are doing everything they can to provide a safe, clean environment,” added Joe Bocherer, Chief Commercial Officer of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, whose campus includes the GWCC, Centennial Olympic Park, and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “By achieving GBAC Star certification, we continue to demonstrate our commitment to providing our customers with the best facility in the country to host their show.”
Why GBAC STAR Accreditation?
The GBAC STAR accreditation means that the GWCC, the third largest convention center in the U.S., has been able to demonstrate that its facility and staff have demonstrated compliance with the program’s 20 elements for creating and maintaining an effective cleaning, disinfection, and infectious disease prevention program.
According to Dr. Gavin Macgregor-Skinner, Director of GBAC and Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, the program focuses on performance- and evidence-based protocols, procedures, and technology to minimize or eliminate the risk of spreading contamination of any infectious disease, not just COVID-19.
“The majority of facilities I work with, from casinos to hotels to cities, identify the hazards through risk assessment, then use engineering controls, administrative controls, the appropriate EPA-approved disinfectants, as well as personal protective equipment and awareness training for employees and visitors to break the cycle of transmission,” Macgregor-Skinner said. He stressed that the accreditation is not a course of study and an exam — it’s a partnership between the ISSA GBAC team and the facility that helps the facility strengthen its existing protocols and procedures to help mitigate the risk of an infectious disease agent.
“We’ve moved from clean and shine to clean and disinfect, which requires training, the appropriate procedures and chemistry in the products used, and learning how to do it with existing equipment and tools,” Macgregor-Skinner said. “We use evidence-based methods to increase confidence and peace of mind.”
The accreditation process took about 45 days, said Duvall, though he also stressed that, although some staffers have taken the online GBAC training course, “the real training will come here at the facility as we prepare to welcome events back beginning in July and August.” And he expects the training will be ongoing as new cleaning and disinfecting protocols are identified. “We will continue to work with GBAC to update our protocols as new standards become available,” Duvall said.
In the meantime, he said, “We’re ready to get back to the business we’re built for — conventions and trade shows.”
Desire for Third-Party Accreditation Is Growing
FABTECH, a member of the TSE Gold 100 and Fastest 50, rotates through Atlanta every four years, with its next GWCC expo coming in 2022. But the news of the center’s new accreditation is welcome now, said John Catalano, Senior Director with SME, which manages FABTECH. “Until recently, we were concentrating on how to build quality attendance and provide great experiences,” he said. “Now we have to do that, and also get back to the basics of ensuring they stay healthy while on site” during this new COVID-19 era.
“Having this assurance that the facility will be compliant to this third-party validation process is huge,” he said, adding that the Las Vegas Convention Center, slated to host FABTECH 2020 in November, is currently pursuing GBAC STAR accreditation as well.
In fact, Catalano’s crew decided to take a proactive approach as well — three of his organization’s staff have taken the GBAC online fundamentals training course. “We didn’t want to rely just on our vendors and buildings to be experts — we wanted our own people to be trained and certified on these issues as well. It’s a small investment we think will pay dividends.”
While the GWCC was the first out of the gate in the U.S. to achieve the GBAC STAR accreditation, Duvall is glad that it is just one of many U.S. facilities, large and small, that are chasing GBAC STAR accreditation. Hyatt has committed to pursuing the accreditation for its 900-plus hotels chainwide, as has The Leading Luxury Hotels of the World, which represents more than 430 hotels and resorts worldwide.
The list of 20 convention centers currently pursuing the GBAC STAR seal of approval — including those in Las Vegas, Orlando, Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Palm Beach, Dallas, Miami, San Diego, Anaheim and New Orleans — continues to grow. Convention and Visitors Bureaus and entire cities also are signing on, as are restaurants, stadiums, and other venues large and small. And on June 26, American Airlines was the first airline to commit to the process.
“We’re proud to be the first to achieve it, but having these protocols in place throughout our industry — including hotels, airlines, and all the other key elements essential for meetings and events — is going to be essential to bring back public confidence” in the safety of attending events, Duvall said.