Crisis team shifts into high gear
As Hurricane Katrina swept across New Orleans, it not only flooded the Crescent City, it simultaneously swept away more than two years of AAOS meeting planning.
Within 24 hours after the storm’s devastating strike, a staff crisis team gathered at AAOS headquarters to ensure that the Annual Meeting took place as planned. The team worked in close concert with the Annual Meeting Committee and the Academy leadership
Members of the crisis team included Karen L. Hackett, FACHE, CAE, chief executive officer; Susan McSorley, director, convention and meeting services (CMS); Mark W. Wieting, chief education officer; Robert H. Haralson III, MD, MBA, executive director, medical affairs; Richard N. Peterson, JD, general counsel; Richard Stewart, chief financial officer; Sandra Gordon, director, public education and media relations; Susan Nowicki, APR, director, communications; and James Ogle, director, information services. Team members began working on several fronts to reach out to members affected by the storm, address concerns about the viability of an Annual Meeting in New Orleans just six months after such a major disaster and reassure Academy members and industry partners that there would indeed be a 2006 Annual Meeting.
Staff from the AAOS convention and meeting services department review floor plans for McCormick Place (left to right): Susan McSorley, director; Lynn Mondack, operations manager; Penny Moroney, meetings manager; Pat Whitaker, exhibits manager, and Kathleen Niesen, education manager
On Sept. 1, the first of several Member Alerts was sent to all AAOS members. The CMS department established a toll-free hotline and the information services area added a special Katrina section to the AAOS Web site. Within hours, a Katrina Disaster Relief Online Discussion Group (chat room) opened to facilitate communication between and among members needing assistance, as well as for those offering help. More than 150 messages were posted in the first week.
Concerned that facilities in New Orleans would not be ready to host a March 2006 meeting, McSorley and her staff quickly contacted 10 alternate meeting cities for dates and facility availability. She also remained in close contact with the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (NOCVB) through their Web site and local representative.
Because AAOS had contracts with the Ernest Morial Convention Center and numerous hotels in New Orleans, no changes to the meeting venue could be made without that city’s agreement. “In deference to New Orleans, we could do nothing until the NOCVB released AAOS from its contract with the convention center,” said McSorley.
On Wednesday, Sept. 8, the NOCVB officially canceled all city-wide conventions through March 31, 2006. At this point, staff updated the hotline and Web site to reflect the cancellation news. Contact information for those who wanted to volunteer in the relief efforts was added to the site. A second Member Alert was distributed; many members responded by suggesting alternate venues.
AAOS quickly narrowed its search for a new meeting city to three candidates. “The competition for convention facilities was fierce because so many meetings were displaced by Katrina,” said McSorley. “Our meeting is one of the largest in the country, so we had to be flexible with the dates.”
After an intensive cost/benefit analysis, and consultation with the board of directors, the Academy chose Chicago as the new meeting destination, with McCormick Place as the meeting site. This decision was based on a number of factors including available dates for the convention centers, number of hotel rooms available, size of available meeting/exhibit space and a desirable destination. A third Member Alert, as well as updates to the hotline and Web site, notified members of the new site and dates.
The crisis team then shifted to implementation mode. Staff made site visits to McCormick Place to assign meeting rooms, arrange exhibit space and make other logistical arrangements. The CMS department assembled lists of potential new venues for social events and began negotiating with hotels for room blocks. The preliminary program was revised to reflect the new dates and deadlines.
Ten representatives of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau visited the Academy’s offices and briefed AAOS leaders on what assistance they could provide to ensure a smooth transition. “They couldn’t have been more generous and understanding,” said AAOS CEO Karen Hackett. “They really want to make the Academy feel welcome.”
AAOS continues to move forward, committed to offering a world-class scientific meeting. Members will be able to begin registering for the meeting on Nov. 2, just a few weeks later than planned.
“One of the best things about our choice of Chicago,” said McSorley, “is that we can hold the meeting just as we have been planning it, with no need to juggle sessions or truncate the program. Chicago has so many options for us.”
AAOS also remains committed to the successful rebuilding of New Orleans. The Chicago hospitality community is earmarking $10 per room night of the AAOS Annual Meeting for a fund to help hospitality workers affected by Katrina. And, looking toward the future, the AAOS will hold its 2010 Annual Meeting in the Crescent City.