Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

December 2013

Laying the Foundation: ASCE's 2014 Annual Meeting Begins To Take Shape

By Christopher Durso, Executive Editor

previously served as ACP’s executive vice president of engineering and programs management, overseeing the expansion project. During his keynote he'll “be giving an update of the history of the Panama Canal,” Rushing said, “and where the Panama Canal is right now.”

When we spoke to Rushing, the program committee was working out the details of the technical tours, which for the expansion likely will include “the digs, the new locks and the new bridge, the dredging area — any of the areas that are going to be under construction,” she said. “We're working on it, for [ACP] to provide technical guidance and a tour guide, people who can actually speak to the project.”

Of course, deciding what you'd like to see and learn about, which is the program committee's purview, is different from making those things happen, and that's where Rushing and her team come in. “The Panama Canal Authority will have to tell us what areas are accessible to us,” Rushing said. “Some of them are restricted due to security. Others maybe restricted to only a few people because of how you get to the area; they can only do maybe 20 people on a tour. Other areas maybe able to handle 50 people going through an area, or going to an overlook and getting a lecture on what they're looking at as far as the construction that's happening below with the lock. How they're digging out the ground and removing the dirt.

“Once we've determined the technical programming of the tech tours,” Rushing said, “then I'll be working with the canal authorities — I and my team — in executing how we're going to get there. How long is it going to take us to get there? What kind of bus can we use? Or do we have to use a van? What kind of clothing is required? Are there any other waivers? Do [tour participants] need their passport, their driver's license? What kind of security is there? How do we get the clothing to them, if they've got to wear hard hats, goggles, or orange vests so that they're seen? It’ s those kinds of things. The devil's in the details.”


And that's not going to change anytime soon. Rushing's next priorities are to finalize the program content, identify the local vendors that she and her team will need, secure special-event locations in Panama City, kick the marketing and sponsorship campaigns into high gear, and get the conference website — which as of press time had a single page of basic information about ASCE 2014 — fully up and running. Rushing had originally hoped to conduct a second official site visit to Panama this past October, during the same time of year as the 2014 conference, so she could experience the country's rainy season first hand, but “that's not quite happening,” she said during our interview, so the trip might have to wait until this winter, possibly sometime in January.

“The purpose of the visit will be to meet my convention-services manager at the [Hotel] Riu,” Rushing said, “and sit down and have a conversation with them about the rooms and locations — how we're going to move things around based on the current outline of the program. We'll talk more about some of the logistical aspects, so that we can see whether we might have to rethink or change something.”

Rushing will also get a better sense of the conference's on-site needs, which will allow her to identify and interview potential vendors, for services such as transportation, translation, and printing. There will be more work with ACP regarding the technical tours, and possibly some site visits for special events. And next summer, about two months out from ASCE 2014, Rushing will make a final site visit to Panama City.

“Usually around the August time-frame, we'll go back to the city,” Rushing said, “and we meet with the technical-tour coordinator and visit all the [tour] sites, and verify where the bus can park, what information they need, what kind of waivers, security, special clothing — whatever it is. We meet with the hotel and go through the big-picture items. I try to hand off all of the function sheets and that type of thing.”

And for the foreseeable future, Rushing and her team face the meeting professional's perennial challenge of planning for the unknown, which is exacerbated by the fact that ASCE is taking its conference to Panama for the first time, and adjusting to a different language and a different business culture. “I'm trying to be as flexible and fluid as I can without not making decisions,” Rushing said. She added: “That's my biggest fear, is having enough of a buffer that my team and I and the association can react to the unknown without it becoming a crisis. It's really trying to be more strategic than normal, and very proactive in asking lots of questions. I keep telling my team, ‘Don't assume anything. Ask the question again.’ Maybe you're beating a dead horse at some point, but you need to verify that you understand.”

About This Series

Engineering ASCE 2014 is an ongoing series that is following the planning of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2014 conference, which will be held on Oct. 7-11 in Panama City, Panama, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal. This is the second article in the series. To read the first article, visit convn.org/asce2014-1


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