Initially all of my carefully made exhibit arrangements had gone off without a hitch. However, at 2 p.m. on the third day of the four-day show, the unimaginable happened: The booth started taking on water.
Usually, flooding is a natural disaster. However, at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago's McCormick Place, one of my clients experienced a flood that was about as unnatural as a July snowstorm in Texas.
My client had hired me to manage all of its logistics, and everything had gone off without a hitch. But at around 2 p.m. on the third day of the four-day show, the unimaginable happened: The booth started taking on water.
Initially we noticed a small wet spot under the prep kitchen near the front half of the 50-by-70-foot exhibit. At first we scanned the venue's rafters to ensure that there wasn't a leaky pipe, condensation, or a faulty roof, but we came up empty. Meanwhile, the spot had grown to approximately 10 feet in diameter, indicating that something in McCormick Place's floor was spewing water upward and into our booth.
We quickly called in reps from show management, the venue, and the general service contractor. After the team cut off power to half of the booth, plumbers peeled back much of our soaked carpet and pad to reveal the flooring. Apparently, a drainage pipe running under McCormick had backed up, forcing water up through a drain under our booth space.
I don't know exactly what kind of juju the plumbers threw at the problem, but within an hour the drain was clear. Still, we were in the middle of day three, and there was a full day of exhibiting to go. So simply closing up – and mopping up – shop wasn't an option for my client.
Our first step, then, was to clean up the water. Thankfully, the venue and show services sent over a cleaning crew that sucked up water for a good hour. By the time they finished, it was almost 5 p.m., when the show was set to close. So we made do with our soggy space until the show doors swung shut. Then we quickly called in our installation-and-dismantle team who rolled up the front half of our carpet and extracted the waterlogged pad underneath.
Next, we set out to replace the carpet and pad. But a quick trip to show services revealed that there was no carpet available to match what remained in the rest of our booth. Granted, reps had a pad, which they provided free of charge, but drying the existing carpet was our only choice. So our team rolled down the carpet atop the new padding and set up an army of industrial fans. It was almost 10:30 p.m. when we finally stood back to assess the situation. We'd done everything we could, so we headed back to our hotel and said a quick prayer to the gods of wind, imploring them to work their magic.
As luck would have it, the wind gods came through. When we arrived at the booth early the next morning, the carpet was completely dry, so we quickly removed the fans and repositioned the exhibitry. In the end, our experience proved that sometimes, even if you have an unnatural disaster, one of the four elements – not to mention a host of laborers and service providers – just might save the day.
— Betsy P. Earle, CTSM, founder, Event Driven Solutions LLC, Clearwater, FL