Houston’s rapid response to the influx of evacuees from hurricanes Katrina and Rita made two powerful points about the city, said Gerard J. “Jordy” Tollett, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, in a recent interview. The city can accommodate huge groups, even without advance notice. And there’s an enormous base of medical facilities and personnel that could be a plus for Houston-based medical meetings.

“We were the center of Rescue One,” said Tollett. Evacuees were housed at the George R. Brown Convention Center and three of the four buildings in Reliant Park: Reliant Astrodome, Reliant Center, and Reliant Arena. “I don’t know any city in the U.S. that could have accepted 250,000 people overnight. People who came from Louisiana had been without doctors and prescription medicines for more than 10 days,” he continues. “They were in dire need. Houston did physical exams for more than 75,000 people in less than a week and provided prescriptions for them. Without asking who would take care of that, we provided it.”

What made that impressive response possible was the medical infrastructure. Houston’s renowned Texas Medical Center is made up of more than 40 institutions, including Baylor College of Medicine, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Methodist Hospital, and schools of nursing, dentistry, and pharmacy. More than 55,000 people work at the Medical Center. To get the word out about the attendee base, as well as the medical facilities, Houston is emphasizing what it calls “backyard marketing,” recruiting local docs to educate their associations about Houston as a meeting site. And it’s paying off: Houston has booked the American Medical Association for 2009 and the American Association for Clinical Chemistry for 2010.

Tollett even has a suggested topic for a medical meeting: “We could do a unique symposium on this situation--how we got all these entities to come together and deal with the evacuees. This is an opportunity for the medical world to meet with doctors who lived this for 45 days.”