Thursday, January 13, 2011

AHA: Navigating in a Bubble

Last year, you might recall from my posts, the Annual Meeting was held in San Diego, where every couple of hours you would leave one hotel for a lovely seaside stroll to the next. This year, it was in Boston, and in Boston on a weekend where there was a snowstorm. The upside to the planning was that the conference center and hotels were linked by a mall and skybridges. The downside to that is I went three days without going outside and wasn't even consciously aware of it.

Until the third day, when a fire alarm drove us from the building. It was truly an interesting experience. I was in the audience of a fascinating panel when the alarm went off. At first, no one was sure what was going on. Instead of the usual fire alarm, it was a beeping tone. Then we heard the WAH WAH WAH and it was clear we needed to get out.

Now, back in elementary school, we learned what to do in this instance. Before you even get to stop, drop, and roll, you 1) abandon all belongings, 2) walk single file, quickly, out of the building, and 3) do not get in elevators or on escalators or touch anything electronic. Still, when the alarm went off, we all hesitated. "Should we leave? Is it real? Could we just stay until we wrap up the third paper? We want to hear the comment!"

Eventually I sprung into action, having been well-trained by my first grade teacher in such matters. It was down the stairs, through the hall, around a wing of the mall, out the door to shiver and huddle together for warmth (not having to go outside = no coats) until the fire department gave approval for reentry.

The whole thing made me think about the set-up. I have to admit that I got lost in the mall. Several times. I managed to find my way around San Diego but I couldn't get from one building to another without accidentally ending up in The Gap. Historians rushing to sessions met crazed shoppers on their own turf. As one professor put it, "at this AHA, we get to have contact with civilians."

Fortunately for many, nothing was actually on fire, and things proceeded smoothly from there. Though it gets one thinking. If monthly fire drills for elementary school students, who are quick and spry and can easily escape out of windows, are a good thing, perhaps emergency-drilling at conference venues shouldn't be out of the question.

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