March 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio March 2000 Current Issue
March 2000 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Bob Cherny


How to site-inspect loading docks, service corridors and other access points

A growing number of meetings these days require truckloads of technical equipment: computers, printers, projectors, you name it. The process of getting this machinery in and out of a facility presents significant challenges, depending on the scope of the event. Attention to access issues during the site inspection can prevent last-minute surprises for you and your production companies.

Docking station
Equipment almost always comes in through a loading dock, so it is important to determine how difficult it is to get to the dock. Can a tractor trailer back straight in, or must it come in at an angle? Can a tractor trailer get to the dock at all?

At some facilities, a long truck cannot back down a long and winding road leading to the dock, and straight trucks must be used. At other venues, even a long straight truck will not make the corners, and shorter ones must be used. The additional labor needed to off-load a tractor trailer onto smaller trucks for the final quarter-mile to the venue can set a meeting over budget and behind schedule.

Once at the dock, is the truck able to stay without impeding other deliveries? Is the dock shared with the banquet kitchen and several Dumpsters? Is the dock area cluttered with storage that will make maneuvering trucks difficult? Will the crew have to sit idly and watch a truckload of equipment thread through a jungle of golf carts and storage bins? Do the docks have levelers? Not all trucks are the same height. Is there ground-level or drive-in access? Docks should have direct access to the meeting room, unobstructed by ramps or elevators. The closer the dock is to the room, the less expensive the loading process will be.

Many newer hotels have excellent loading capabilities, but even those routinely are stretched to capacity. A facility that accommodates multiple events might have traffic problems in its loading area even if it has several docks. It is up to the dockmaster to allocate the space, but if you are sharing a building with another event, dock space availability should be written into your contract.

Obstacle Course
Some facilities do not have docks reserved for the meeting rooms, so it pays to walk the route your delivery people will have to take. For instance, in some places, the way to the meeting room is through the kitchen. Carrying equipment past the chef is hazardous to both the technicians and the kitchen staff. Kitchen floors can be wet and slippery. In this case, check whether the service corridors are packed with stored kitchen equipment.

The large equipment carts preferred by production companies often do not fit down the narrow aisles left in many banquet kitchens or crowded service corridors. If a load-out occurs a couple of hours after the end of a banquet, and the path to the truck is through the kitchen, the process will be slowed as technicians try to negotiate wet floors with rolling equipment cases.

Freight elevators also can slow the setup or breakdown of a meeting. Few things stop the process as surely as a locked elevator when the operator is gone for the night. To make matters more difficult, many elevators have load limits that are easily exceeded. Does the equipment have to be balanced on the elevator? Some elevators lock up under an unbalanced load. What if the only lift access to the room is via a passenger elevator? Have you ever tried to haul 4-by-8-foot riser tops up two flights of stairs?

If there are access issues, inform your production company. Together, you can choose the equipment that best accommodates the meeting's purpose and the limitations of the facility.

Bob Cherny is operations manager for Paradise Sound and Light, a production company in Orlando.

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