As a paralyzed nation watched the destruction of the World Trade Center towers and the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, people in the association community dried their eyes and went to work.

“Times of tragedy bring America's communities together, and associations…are often among the first to respond,” remarked Michael S. Olson, CAE, president and CEO of the American Society of Association Executives, in a statement shortly after the attacks.

One first responder was Arlington, Va.-based American Waterways Operators, which has offices just blocks from the World Trade Center towers. AWO organized barge and tugboat companies in the area to help evacuate victims, provide fresh water and medical supplies, and supply diesel fuel to rescue vehicles. “The waterways were the the safest way to get people home who thought they might never get home again,” says AWO vice president Linda O'Leary.

Another early responder was the International Safety Equipment Association, Arlington, Va., whose members manufacture personal protective equipment. They worked day and night to provide respirators, protective clothing, gloves, hard hats, and eye-protection to firefighters and other emergency workers in New York City and at the Pentagon. “There are workers who need to be protected: That's our business,” says ISEA president Dan Shipp.

Mobilizing to Help

Hospitality industry members also responded quickly. Most major hotel chains dropped their cancellation fees for meetings scheduled for the weeks following September 11.

The Sheraton Suites Alexandria, located near the Pentagon, provided free rooms to SWAT teams working at the Pentagon, according to general manager John Varghese. When the hotel asked for volunteers to make 200 sandwiches for the Salvation Army, more than 75 employees, including every manager in the hotel, stepped forward.

Convention and visitors bureaus, such as the Denver Metro CVB, also dug in to help. Denver CVB's housing department became a clearinghouse for people who were stranded by the shutdown of the Denver International Airport, according to Jill Strunk, the CVB's public relations manager. The bureau corralled information on available rooms at all metro and surrounding area hotels, and also found local citizens who were willing to open their homes to travelers who couldn't afford a hotel.

The Professional Convention Management Association's (www.pcma.org) Network for the Needy and the PCMA Foundation each pledged to contribute $5,000 to a scholarship fund for the children of people killed during the bombings. It also set up the PCMA Crisis Management Exchange on its Web site, including an idea exchange, crisis management resources and links, and a way to contribute to its Youth Education Fund.

The Convention Industry Council teamed up with Web-based technology and services provider StarCite in a joint initiative called “Operation Cancellation Rescue.” Designed to help support the industry in the wake of September 11, the initiative's main objective is “to rebook and fill canceled hotel rooms and meeting space to ease the burden on those whose meeting space was booked and now canceled,” according to John Pino, founder and CEO of StarCite. Access the no-fee service at www.conventionindustry.org, or www.StarCite.com.

In addition to showing an outpouring of support for those affected by the tragedies, members of the Meetings Industry Mall's MIMlist listserv (www.mim.com) offered their homes to stranded travelers, and those in the New York and Washington, D.C., areas volunteered to contact others' loved ones when long-distance phone lines jammed. The listserv members also started a volunteer shuttle relay service, with various members offering to drive stranded colleagues a few hours, who then would be picked up by another member, and so bring them home step by step.

“The outpouring of goodwill from the list was one of the most amazing displays of giving I have ever witnessed, or probably will ever witness,” says Joan Eisenstodt, the list's facilitator.