director of the
Katrina swept through New Orleans last August, thousands
of citizens found themselves trapped at the Superdome and the
massive, mile-long Morial Convention Center. And those assembly
halls-cum-shelters of last resort became settings for suffering
seen on television screens around the world.
Now, almost a year later, the Coppell, Texas-based
International Association of Assembly Managers is formulating
guidelines for managers of large public assembly halls that may be
called upon to double as makeshift homes, medical facilities, mess
halls, and arks in the storm for thousands of people in natural or
In mid-April, IAAM convened its first-ever European meeting in
Vienna. There, shelter planning was of paramount concern for the
30-plus venue managers in attendance. Greg Davis, director of the
Cajundome in Lafayette, La., delivered a keynote address based on
his experience of sheltering 18,500 Katrina evacuees and housing
7,000 for months afterwards.
“Venue managers must educate themselves as to the various types
of uses, liability exposure, reimbursement of shelter expenses, and
the process to recover from shelter operations,” said Davis.
To help provide this education, IAAM has formed a Shelter Task
Force, under Davis, to formulate best practices, to be issued
following review by the Department of Homeland Security and the
Washington, D.C.-based American Red Cross.
“IAAM has responded to a critical need in the assembly
management industry,” Davis said. “The best-practices guideline is
a starting point to position a major facility for a smooth
transition to mega-shelter operations.”
Dialogue, good communication with authorities and thorough
planning are of utmost importance, stressed Mark Hamilton, managing
director of Scotland-based RockSteady Security, in his address to
IAAM’s venue managers. He noted that European authorities intend to
use stadiums and arenas as mass inoculation and treatment centers
if a bird flu pandemic occurs.
However, not one arena or stadium manager attending the IAAM
event had been consulted by authorities regarding that plan,
according to an IAAM spokesperson.