The emergency evacuation of the hotel was due to complaints of a chemical odor, which was determined to be a container with a chlorine-containing chemical that had been broken in the hotel. With the teamwork of the convention staff, hotel, and local Rosemont emergency services (from the Fire Department to Police Department) the group was moved to the Stephens Convention Center for shelter until it was deemed safe to reenter the hotel at 4:21 am. The Rosemont Police Department determined this was a criminal act and began investigating it as such.
Despite the unfortunate incident that clearly impacted them, the group was able to return to almost normal operations by Sunday morning. In testament to their strong community, as shared in their press release, “ …it is noteworthy that during this time of crisis we were aided by many staff members from other furry conventions throughout the world and attendees who volunteered their services to aid in the evacuation process. Midwest FurFest is tremendously grateful for their assistance and this only illustrates how supportive the furry community is towards helping one another.” (Complete official statement published on www.furfest.org/Evacuation_Statement)
When asked what they learned from this incident and what they took away for future planning to help their group, as well as advice for other planners, Murono shared several suggestions:
- Have a clear, written emergency plan, know who is calling the shots.
- Have a protocol for radio usage during an emergency, share your plan with your staff, and practice particular scenarios.
- Work with your hotel/venue on emergency procedures including evacuation locations, asset protection, and press management.
- Have an understanding of how your hotel or venue handles emergencies, what rooms get secured, what events trigger an alarm and where, etc.
- Establish a relationship with local law enforcement/emergency services.
- Gather key personnel immediately to brainstorm ways to mitigate litigation, address safety concerns, and how to proceed with programming after the incident.
- Address social media and press requests in an organized fashion and designate one person to address requests to avoid misinformation or contradictions.
- Have a vetting process that addresses legal and organizational concerns before you release information.
Since this incident spanned many hours, Midwest FurFest realized their efforts would have been aided by some additional supplies such as extra batteries for radios, a bullhorn, external power source for cell phones and chargers, contact list for city emergency services and hotel/venue, emergency procedures handbook, checklist for asset management before and after an incident, and an internal phone tree for important staff members.
Amidst the unexpected challenge, the group was able to end the convention with many positive milestones. Part of the convention’s core mission is to raise money for animal-focused charities in the Midwest. Their charity, Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary, raised $11,000 by charitable donations from attendees and an additional $20,000 was donated from their parent corporation Midwest Furry Fandom, Inc.
Established in 2000 as a break out organization from a local science fiction convention (DucKon), Midwest FurFest has grown to be the second largest furry convention in the world. This science fiction convention held in Rosemont, IL, celebrates the furry fandom, a community based on anthromorphic animal characters. Involvement in the community can include, (but is not limited to) costuming - commonly described as “fursuits,” art, literature, performance, and community service. Since its inaugural year it has grown from 388 attendees to over 4,500!
Murono shares, “The convention offers our community a comfortable venue to costume, sell their artwork and wares, educate, share their talents, and mingle with their friends. In addition, to date we have raised over $230,000 for animal-focused charities in the Midwest and offer a variety of educational programming centered around our charities.”