When Hurricane Sandy hit during the American Society for Radiation Oncology’s (ASTRO) annual conference at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, planners put their contingency plans into play.
Staff arrived in Boston on the Wednesday before the conference, which was scheduled to begin on Sunday, October 28, and end on October 31. By then, association executives were watching the storm, explains Michelle Kirkwood, media relations manager at ASTRO, Fairfax, Va. Forecasters were not sure where and when it was going to hit, but they knew Boston could be in its path. ASTRO officials met continually with city and convention center leaders in the days leading up the conference, preparing an action plan if, and when, the storm hit.
On Saturday, it became evident that the storm would arrive either Monday afternoon or evening, the second day of the conference, but would probably not be a direct hit on Boston. By then, most attendees had already arrived or were en route to Boston for the Sunday opening.
Association leaders took their cue from local officials regarding when to suspend the conference and evacuate the building should the storm indeed hit.
When local officials announced that all public transportation in the region would be shut down at 2 p.m. on Monday, October 29, ASTRO, working with BCEC officials, suspended the conference at 12:30 p.m. and evacuated the BCEC.
Association leaders had made arrangements in advance with the shuttle bus company to have additional shuttles deployed to pick up all 10,000-plus attendees at 12:30 p.m., even those who were staying at hotels within walking distance. Overall, there were 15 hotels in the room block.
The storm arrived in Boston later that afternoon and raged into the evening, although not with the same ferocity as in the New York/New Jersey area. Afternoon sessions were canceled from 12:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. as were evening functions.
Association officials hunkered down in their hotels that night, monitoring the storm to see if the meeting could continue through that Wednesday.
Fortunately, the hotels and the convention center did not lose power that evening. The next morning, the storm had moved on without causing major damage and the city lifted the transportation ban. “The city did keep us apprised of the situation,” says Kirkwood. “Once city officials made the decision to open up transportation, it was clear we could proceed.”
The next morning, the conference resumed, beginning bright and early at 8 a.m. with only a few minor scheduling tweaks.
Association meeting planners had also made previous arrangements with all of the hotels in the block to accommodate stranded guests with rooms at the meeting rate until they were able to get back home.
Hundreds of flights were canceled on Monday, so there was some backup for attendees who left the conference early. But by Thursday morning, November 1, most flights were going out on time without delays.
More than 10,000 attendees were expected at the conference in Boston. While some did cancel because of the storm, overall, association leaders didn’t expect major. (Final attendance numbers have not been released). Those who could not make it because of the weather would be refunded in accordance with the association’s inclement weather cancellation policy.