This Just In

Shows Adapt on the Fly Following Boston Marathon Bombings


Boston, MA – It was all over the news. Keeping the exhibition industry humming in the wake of two bombs having exploded during Boston’s famed marathon hinged on prompt and thorough communications from trade show organizers and convention center officials.

Two healthcare-sector annual meetings proceeded amid disruptions that were kept to a minimum because management, attendees and exhibitors knew what was going on.

“We are grateful to our customers and their attendees for their patience throughout a week of uncertainty,” said Jim Rooney, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. “We are also thankful to our staff and contract partners for reassuring and updating our guests and helping to keep them and our facilities safe.”

The emergency in Boston was a unique experience for venue managers. There were actually two red alerts in the city that occurred days apart. The first was on Monday April 15, when two explosions rocked the finish line of the Boston Marathon, a short distance from the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center. The second was Friday April 19, when the city declared a “shelter in place” that nearly locked down the area as police scoured the city for the two suspects.

Friday was move-in day for Boston Comic Con at Hynes and the Experimental Biology 2013 Annual MeetingComic Con had planned to go ahead with the popular event and issued a warning to costumed attendees to leave masks and prop weapons at home. But at the last minute, the logistical challenges proved too much and the show was postponed until a later date.

“Unfortunately, this situation is beyond our control,” show organizers said in their announcement.

Experimental Biology, however, opened on time on Saturday April 20 at the Boston Convention & Exposition Center (BCEC). “It was a little bit nutty, but we survived,” said Marcella Jackson, director of scientific meetings and conferences for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

The shelter-in-place order was loosened enough to allow the roughly 15,000 attendees who left their hotels to enter the BCEC. Jackson told Trade Show Executive (TSE) that the registration desk processed more than 2,000 name badges on the first day. “Our security procedures, which included a bag check, were in place and continued through the entire show,” she said. “We had a full day of meetings and there were tons of people in the building.”

Earlier in the week, the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association (ASCA) Annual Meeting had opened at Hynes just two days after the marathon bombs exploded. Show organizers were nonetheless able to complete the move-in under tightened security while briefing attendees and exhibitors on the highly fluid situation.

Kay Tucker, ASCA director of communications, said her office assisted in making program changes on the fly. “We changed a lunch to a buffet and a couple of speakers cancelled, but our members stepped up to take over their sessions,” Tucker told TSE. “We used cell phones and social media to help get the word out. The connectivity of the people at the meeting really helped us find them quickly.”

Attendance at ASCA 2013 was about 5% below what was expected. As the FASB’s Jackson pointed out, Boston was not completely locked down to the point that no one could get to the event. “The airport was open and accepting flights, and only certain city streets were closed,” she said.

“We received multiple inquiries from attendees who were concerned about what was being projected in the news media,” Jackson said. “We informed them the meeting was taking place and also updated our website several times.”

Long-Running Changes

Moreover, Rooney said that business will continue at Hynes and the BCEC through the coming Summer months, but attendees may find that the protocols have changed. Rooney said building security was eased following the arrest of one suspected bomber and the death of the other. There will, however, be tighter scrutiny on who may enter the buildings in the coming months.

Contractors, exhibitors and attendees will be required to display identification badges at all times and pass through a bag check before entering. Fred Peterson, director of facilities operations for the MCCA, said acceptable ID for show labor would be limited to temporary and permanent staff cards issued by the MCCA, and the Worker ID System (WIS) badge created by the Exhibition Services & Contractors Association (ESCA). “The WIS is the only outside recognized badge that we accept,” Peterson told TSE. “It has been extremely helpful and beneficial to us on a variety of levels”

Those without proper ID can expect to be contacted by building security. Bomb-sniffing dogs have routinely inspected the centers in the past and will become a more-common sight, Rooney said.

The immediate and long-term steps taken by the MCCA were considered commendable by exhibition industry leaders. “They excelled in their communications, providing frequent updates and instructions throughout the ‘shelter in place’ period,” said Larry Arnaudet, executive director of ESCA.

Show management also reported having received kudos from attendees for going on with the show during a terrorism alert with the same determination they would persevere through a blizzard or a hurricane. “Our members were tremendous,” said Tucker. “We received a lot of thanks for continuing. But surgery centers deal with life-and-death dramas and are used to making last-minute decisions. They don’t get rattled.”

Reach Jim Rooney at (617) 954-2470 or; Marcella Jackson at (301) 634-7012 or; Kay Tucker at (703) 836-8808 or; Larry Arnaudet at (972) 447-8212 or

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