by Sarah J.F. Braley | June 01, 2013

In the aftermath of the bombings that took place at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, those involved with meetings in the city at the time are now taking a hard look at their preparedness for future emergencies.

Immediately following the incidents, James E. Rooney, executive director of the Mas­sachusetts Convention Center Authority, began communicating with facility staff, arranging to have the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, and the parking garage at the Hynes swept by bomb-sniffing dogs.
"We use the dogs pretty regularly on an unannounced basis and for high-security events," said Rooney, who was at the marathon's finish line near the Hynes center, waiting for his niece to cross, when the bombs went off (she was unharmed). "We called them in, and the buildings were cleared around 8 p.m.," he said.

Over the next couple of days, Experimental Biology 2013 moved about 14,000 registrants into the BCEC and the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association set up for about 2,000 attendees for its annual meeting in the Hynes center, whose front door is on the Boylston Street site of the bombings. Throughout, heightened security included checking all IDs and bags, and screening all freight coming into the buildings, rather than doing the usual random checks.

The MCCA now is accelerating a program it was already developing, an event-by-event threat-level assessment. "We want to take our general safety plans to the next level, and triage from a public-safety perspective," said Rooney. Officials will be looking at what kinds of attendees, speakers and trade will be entering the buildings, and what events will be taking place; security will be enhanced, and the Boston Police and FBI informed where needed.

During that week in April, plans for the ASCA's convention saw some changes, particularly when the shelter-in-place order confined delegates to their hotels and the Hynes, and a networking event had to be relocated to the Hynes. "It was not a situation I would wish on anyone, but it ended up being a really good meeting," said Bill Prentice, CEO of the organization, who spent April 16 evaluating whether to hold the meeting at all. "It was a very stressful week, but I clearly got the sense that the people of Boston were pleased that we would be there. Once the shelter-in-place order was lifted, it was like New Year's Eve." Only about 200 of those registered canceled.

ASCA did not have a risk-management plan in place going into its annual meeting, but creating one is a priority now. Added Prentice: "We are looking at what we did wrong or right in view of this, and what we can put in place in the future, particularly to enhance communications during an emergency."