Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

November 15 2012

Event Planners Continue to Feel Sandy's Impact

David McMillin

While the Northeast recovered from damages from Hurricane Sandy, workers at New York's Javits Center returned to discover some flooding in Level 1 of the building. After testing building systems, the center was ready to welcome participants of the 2012 New York Marathon for registration and browsing booths at the ING New York City Marathon Health and Fitness Expo.

The efforts to overcome the storm's damage inside the Javits Center weren't enough to overshadow the controversy of holding the marathon. As residents struggled without power and running water, many New Yorkers voiced their distaste with the decision to continue with plans to hold the 26.2-mile annual race.

Still, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and marathon organizers remained committed to holding the race as planned, citing it as an example of how New Yorkers come together in challenging times. Participants were convinced that the starting guns would sound, but then, the mayor reversed his decision. Late Friday afternoon, Mayor Bloomberg and Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO of New York Road Runners, issued a statement canceling the marathon.

Communication Breakdown

However, the decision to cancel was too late for the majority of participants. Registration had opened on Thursday, so plenty of runners had already made the trip to New York for the event. According to New York Times interview with George Hirsch, Chairman of the New York Road Runners Board of Directors, approximately 40,000 of the race's 47,500 runners were already in New York for the race.

The communications plan appeared to have its issues. According to an ABC News report, some individual runners reported that they either never received an email notification or received a message long after the public statement was issued.

"A scenario like Sandy doesn't happen often, but the reports from the past week reinforce why event organizers must have a contingency plan and be prepared to deal with unforeseen circumstances," Carolyn Clark, vice president, marketing and communications, PCMA, says. "Keeping participants safe and up-to-date on what's happening should always be a top priority."

For an outline of other priorities for managing a crisis and reducing liabilities, download PCMA's Risk Planning checklist here.

More Cancellations

Other organizations such as the American Diabetes Association did not face such a long decision-making process. The ADA's 2012 New York Expo was scheduled for November 3 at the Javits Center, but the organization had already decided to cancel the event by Wednesday, October 31.

"Once we realized that the transit system was shut down, we knew that no one would be able to get there," Betsy Stoller, communications manager, American Diabetes Association, says. "We were concerned about everyone's safety and didn't want people to try to travel."

Stoller says that 2,000 attendees had already registered for the Expo, and the ADA was expecting 8,000 participants to take part in the event. The communications department made sure the entire audience knew there was no need to make the trip to New York.

"We sent out an email to all of our pre-registered attendees, and we also sent a message to our entire list to notify anyone who planning to register on-site," Stoller says. "We updated our social media channels, and we were in touch with all of our sponsors and exhibitors to make sure they were aware of the postponement."

While the ADA has yet to confirm a new date for the event, Stoller says that the organization's partners have been understanding and want to be part of the Expo whenever it happens.

"All of our media sponsors have been very gracious, and they're planning to stick with us once we have a rescheduled date," Stoller adds.

The Show Goes On At the Javits Center

The past week has included plenty of hurdles for the Javits Center, but the big picture looks bright for the building that houses 760,000 square feet of New York's exhibition space. The center is in the midst of a major renovation that is slated for completion by the end of 2013.

In the immediate future, attendees and exhibitors are returning to the Javits Center this week. Leslie Buxton, marketing and communications coordinator at the Javits Center, says that all of the shows scheduled for this week are occurring as planned.

For more on how Hurricane Sandy impacted the meetings and events community, click here

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