No one could have predicted, much less prepared for, a disaster as extreme as the attacks of September 11. Still, meeting planners across the country and around the world went about providing them safe havens, alternate transportation, food, drink and shelter—while dealing with their own fears and grief.
McGettigan Partners (www.mcgettigan.com), a leading strategic meeting planning firm, had over a dozen client meetings and events being managed all over the country by many of its 400 associates hard at work on that awful day. People like Gail Hughes and Andy Baldwin, who were supporting a user conference for UCCNet in Boston. Their hotel, the Hilton at the Boston/Logan Airport, quickly became the Command Center for the Boston flight victim’s families. By 10 a.m. on September 11th, the Red Cross, FEMA, clergy, police, and security officials were "taking over" the facility. Hughes and Baldwin, with help from Kim Soldavin in McGettigan’s Philadelphia office, went into action to help provide safe transportation for the attendees to return home. They secured buses and rental cars, and Hughes even rode on the six-hour bus trip home with the UCCNet folks.
On September 13th, although another portion of the UCCNet program was cancelled, Eileen Cimino drove to the Marriott Boston/Quincy in case some of the attendees showed up and to act as a support system at the property.
Another major client conference at the Sheraton New Orleans was coming to a close when news of the attacks broke. With the airports closed, McGettigan Meetings Plus’ Dylah Hughes and her team—Bradley Ford, Carrie Uribe, Suzanne Schoenfeld, Kylie Habegger, Michelle Gaston and Anne Marie Durkee—quickly compiled reports based on return destinations for the 600 attendees. Team members stood with U.S. state signs above their head to draw groups that would travel together. In all, 23 buses and 10 limousines and sedans returned domestic participants to their homes in 20 US states. The project manager, Dylah Hughes, stayed long after until every international attendee departed safely. In a dilapidated RV carrying two conference attendees, part of the McGettigan team traveled toward home to California. The RV stopped on the prairie in Kansas for a moment of silence and the first of many candlelight vigils in concert with the rest of the nation.
Then there was the 900-attendees meeting in Atlanta that decided to cancel its program when the news came. Under the leadership of Joyce Novicky and Dan Gannett, the McGettigan team reserved busses to transfer guests, threw away signage, packed boxes and sent them to shipping, and broke down registration. Just as everything was taken down, they decided to continue the program since the attendees were stranded in the area anyway. The team located and unpacked boxes, re-set up registration, made new signage, and made many changes in the agenda.
McGettigan associates working other conferences that day also arranged for on-site grief counselors for attendees from affected areas, arranged shuttles to various blood donation locales, secured charter flights and chauffers to get attendees and speakers home, and called spouses to let them know their loved ones were safe.
There were many more inspirational stories like these from McGettigan’s associates who felt they were not heros – but simply doing what professional meeting planners are expected to do – be prepared for anything!