Rob Davidson finds a storm in his teacup
Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia – and perhaps by the time you read this, Hurricane Lee may be wreaking its own havoc wherever it makes landfall.
Our industry once again played a role in alleviating the human misery by allowing conference centres to be used to provide refuge to desperate residents of the cities affected. It wasn’t the first time, of course. Cast your mind back to 2013 when super typhoon Haiyan battered the central Philippines and families took refuge at the Tacloban City Convention Center. Or think further back, to 2005 when thousands sought shelter in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the Superdome when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, leaving just short of 2,000 people dead in its wake and millions homeless. It was estimated that at one point, 25,000 people were huddled inside the vast conference centre and more than 40,000 had taken shelter in the Superdome.
When Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston in September this year, local people took shelter in the city’s George R. Brown Convention Center. It all began in an orderly enough manner as volunteers set out cots for the 5,000 evacuees that the Red Cross had estimated would arrive through the night. But there were soon more than 10,000 people taking shelter at the venue, meaning that at one point half of the evacuees were sleeping on the floor.
It’s tempting to wonder how much has been learnt about these accommodating these vast hordes of people in buildings that were originally built for a completely different purpose. In the aftermath of Katrina in 2005, the venues were quickly overwhelmed by the influx of residents, many of who arrived with no belongings to their name. The handsome Ernest N. Morial Convention Center that only a few days before had hosted the glittering Wheel of Fortune game show quickly became an international symbol of despair and destruction.
How would our own UK conference centres cope with such an emergency, I wonder? With any luck, we’ll never have to find out. In the words of professor Henry Higgins, “In Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen”. Just be thankful for that the next time you moan about some light drizzle.