As residents along the East Coast prepared for the impact of Hurricane Sandy, Ed Several, senior vice president at Reed Exhibitions and show manager, ISC East, prepared to make the worst-case scenario call for a show organizer: cancellation.
ISC East, the largest annual Northeast U.S. Security Convention, was originally scheduled for October 30 – 31 at the Javits Center in New York City. After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a State of Emergency and ordered mass transit closings, Several made the decision to cancel the show.
"We are placing the safety of our attendees and exhibitors first and attempting to stay in regular contact with them," Several said.
Several says that everyone involved in the show was proactive in updating all participants.
"We have deployed three communications since Thursday via email, text, website and recorded messages to those calling in," Several said.
Several adds that show officials went even one step further and attempted to reach more than 250 exhibitors with personal phone calls. While a new date for the show has yet to be scheduled, ISC and Freeman are offering free warehouse storage space for exhibitors to use until new dates can be confirmed.
ISC East wasn't the only meeting postponed due to Sandy's wrath. Alan Steel, President and CEO of the Javits Center, says that two more shows were cancelled this week, leaving the center's 760,000 square feet of exhibit space empty.
The State of Emergency didn't initially force cancellations of ISC East, the Advanced Energy Conference and JA New York Special Delivery. Through Saturday evening, it was still up to organizers whether they wanted to continue to hold events as planned.
Still, Steel says representatives from the Javits Center were in touch with customers throughout the decision-making process.
"As soon as the weather reports looked like there was potential for disruption, we were discussing options with customers," Steel says. "We had a communication tree to reach out to individual customers and constantly stayed in touch."
Steel says that the majority of customers had business interruption insurance and relied on their insurance carriers for consultation. However, one show made the unfortunate mistake of failing to pay for protection. While Hurricane Sandy would have seemed like a distant what-if scenario during the planning process, the week's events reinforce the importance of comparing event cancellation insurance programs to make sure that your potential liabilities and losses are covered.
By Sunday, what-if was a reality for everyone. Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order for an area that included the Javits Center. There were additional cancellations in other areas of Manhattan, including a mobile conference hosted by The Wall Street Journal, two Facebook events and a Google Android event.
The storm will move out of the area by Wednesday, and Steel says that registration for this weekend's New York City Marathon will be held at the Javits Center as planned.
The Ripple Effect
As residents recover and return home in New York and throughout the Northeast, it will take plenty of additional time for the travel industry to get back on track. According to aviation tracking website FlightAware.com, there were nearly 14,000 flight cancellations due to Hurricane Sandy, and passengers around the world were feeling the effects. With heavily-trafficked travel hubs like New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. working to get so many passengers rebooked, travel will undoubtedly be impacted throughout the rest of the week.
Check back for continuing coverage of how the storm impacts your colleagues in the meeting planning community.
For more on meeting crisis management, check out this list of tips for a planner's disaster plan.