Crisis management at Fanime

In which the staff demonstrate the value of improvisation.

We've always been interested in the mechanics of how conventions are run, how they break down, how they fix themselves. It's one of my standard jokes -- "we do cosplay photography and articles about how to run conventions." In this particular case, Fanime's day 0 experienced a massive force majeure disruption, and they coped with it. Here are Jeff's notes, presented with some light editing.

I came back from an offsite photoshoot.

Went down, in those few moments of in-between time to pick up my badge.

Coming through the Marriot to the convention center. There's a tunnel, and I see a line.

I don't think I've ever seen a line there. And the hall lights aren't on. It's eerie. Not dark, but not brightly lit.

Turn my head, and I see a network of staffers moving the crowd. Another one every twenty paces.

People coming from the second level down, led by another staffer.

I eventually realize that I'm seeing one giant line, broken into groups to comply with the fire code. It's glorious, really, except that it means something's gone very wrong.

This has never happened.

Time to go into press mode. Put on my armband, get my pad and pen. HENSHIN!!

And then I start walking down the line to find the end.

Initially, it all seems chaotic, but I see hints of organization as I go. Knots of staffers huddling for information. Crowd control -- always crowd control. But this place is filled with people, and I walk all the way to the Hilton, at the other end of the convention center, and still no end in sight.

Now I've realized this is something special. But I need more information. I decide to eavesdrop. Not polite, but journalism has very little to do with politesse.

I hear a woman doing tactics. "We need to break the line here. Put someone here and here, and have them hold the crowd in these places. Who's got an extra staffer?"

And then, "We need to get these people registered." A smile. Not a very nice smile. "Who's got experience doing . . . manual reg?"

They broke the huddle. I followed the programming head as he did line control. "push. push. stand back." He went down the line to get everyone arranged, then came back and talked to his staff, three or four at a time.

"Okay, we need to arrange the line. We're going to do manual registration. The power outages are keeping us from doing reg normally, so this is going to go slow, but we need to keep the floor clear."

And another group's coming down the stairs. They're connecting the lines up again. Progress.

Power's still out, by the way. Some stuff works, but the lights aren't all up.

And then I see Dom. I head over to him. He seems preoccupied with his radio. "Need to get these things re-registered," or something like that. Radios aren't working either, looks like. Lost contact with their base station, lost configuration -- I can't really say, but they're down.

Dom gets a briefing and then has to be off -- "Got to go establish command-and-control, get all the radios checked back in."

So I walk down the line again. I've seen long lines before, and they can get ugly. I talked with the guy at the head of the line -- he'd waited 6 hours.

But there's something different here -- it's all very orderly. People are waiting in line. And here Fanime's staffers are really doing a fantastic job. They're managing the line, but they're also explaining what's going on. It's working.

And here comes the programming head, apologizing. He starts doing pushups.

The Fanime lines, now that I think about it, often have this kind of quality. They manage to keep themselves entertained.

It's probably the most maturity I've ever seen out of a mob at an anime convention.

I think it took them about 5 hours to get through the line -- and they did it. Everyone in the line at the time I'm speaking of, if they stuck with it, got their badge before midnight.

Things go wrong. It's how you react to it that's important.

Coda: commmemorative shirts

Four days later, on the last day of Fanime, a bunch of staff had new shirts. The date and "never forget" on the front, and "then we will reg in the shade" on the back. Product of an anonymous donor, apparently.