Meetings

Meetings Forged Ahead Despite Baltimore Unrest

By / May 5, 2015 (iStock/Thinkstock)

At least two groups went ahead with their planned meetings and conventions in Baltimore last week and this week in spite of a breakout of protests that left the city in a state of emergency.

Following a week of protests and tension, Baltimore is seemingly returning to a more normal state of affairs. The National Guard began to pull out over the weekend, and the citywide curfew that had been in place since last Tuesday was lifted.

The circumstances in Baltimore last week affected a handful of meetings and events—several of which were canceled. But some went on as planned, including the 17th Annual Food Safety Summit.

“Monday night was an intense and stressful night as things ramped up and the government declared a state of emergency,” said Scott Wolters, director of the Summit, of the night protests broke out last week. That Monday was also the first day of the Summit, which took place at the Baltimore Convention Center.

“Most of the unrest was north of the Inner Harbor area, which is where the convention center is, so we weren’t in the thick of it, but clearly we were near it,” said Wolters. “That was obviously a big concern.”

That evening Wolters and his staff conferred with Baltimore police, leadership at the convention center, its own internal advisors, and the city’s convention and visitors bureau, Visit Baltimore (which put out its own video updates on the situation last week), to determine whether or not the event should move forward.

“We were concerned about the safety of people in and around the convention center and hotels, and we took all that into account, but by and large we were assured by everyone that it’s safe down there and most of the people were already in town and ready to go,” Wolters said.

While attendees might have been uneasy with some of the uncertainty going on in the city, attendance was largely unaffected, Wolters added. More than 90 percent of registered participants checked in.

Another meeting that went ahead as scheduled despite last week’s events was the American Occupational Health Conference, scheduled for May 3-6 at the Hilton Baltimore.

“We didn’t ever really expect that we would be canceling,” said Joyce Paschall, CAE, director, education and meetings at the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Paschall and her staff were continually monitoring the situation last week to determine the proximity of potentially violent events to the meeting’s location, as well as the degree to which attendees could travel to and from the city. Because the majority of AOHC meeting attendees weren’t arriving till Saturday, May 2, they also kept in mind that the situation could boil down.

“We knew we had a few days for things to calm down and for people to understand what was and was not happening and what was really being fueled by media coverage and what was really the true story that was going on in town,” Paschall said.

Overall, attendance was not affected. Meeting rooms have been jam-packed and there have been more walk-in registrations than normal, Paschall said.

The hotel and Visit Baltimore have also been accommodating and appreciative, she added. “It’s been business as usual, plus better.”

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. More »

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