Risk Management

How the Industry Responded to the Baltimore Riots

The last week of April was a rollercoaster for Baltimore, with 25-year-old resident Freddie Gray’s death in police custody on April 12 casting a long shadow over the city.

From Saturday, April 25, to Tuesday, April 28, protests and demonstrations were sometimes marred by riots, arson, and looting, leading Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to declare a state of emergency and activate the Maryland National Guard, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to impose a citywide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tensions eased toward the end of the week, culminating in the announcement on Friday, May 1, that Gray’s death had been ruled a homicide and that six Baltimore police officers were being charged with murder or manslaughter.

Needless to say, the situation had a significant effect on meetings and events throughout the city, with some groups canceling and others going ahead with their scheduled programs. Here are snapshots of how meeting professionals handled the uncertain, ever-fluctuating situation.


Baltimore’s CVB focused on serving as an information clearinghouse for its clients, including both business and leisure travelers. It posted regular updates on its website, including a video Q&A with President and CEO Tom Noonan on Thursday, April 30. “We’re dealing with a lot of meeting planners right now that are calling us, saying, ‘We’re bringing our event there in the next 30, 60, 90 days, and we want to make sure the right messaging is out there for our attendees,’” Noonan says in the video. “So we’re working with those organizations right now to make sure they have the right data for their attendees so they can make informed decisions about coming here.” He adds: “One of the things that’s touched me over the last 48, 72 hours is the fact that I’ve heard from hundreds of meeting planners — in fact, we’ve had two meeting planners call and say they want to book their meetings here in 2017 and 2018. That’s really inspirational.”


Citing “the deteriorating conditions in Baltimore,” the DHI Board of Governors decided on the evening of Monday, April 27, to cancel DHI’s ConNEXTions 2015 conference, scheduled for April 29–May 1 at the Baltimore Convention Center. “There are significant financial ramifications of this decision that were discussed at length before this decision was made,” according to a statement on DHI’s website. “The impact goes well beyond DHI and our exhibitors and attendees, to include service providers, speakers, as well as the local economy. This was a decision that was not taken lightly, but the safety and security of our members and attendees is our highest priority.”


The Food Safety Summit went on as scheduled at the convention center on April 28–30. A “Travel Update” posted on the event’s homepage read: “We understand that you might have some concerns about your visit to the Summit in light of some news reports about unrest in the Baltimore area. We are working very closely with the Mayor’s Office, the Baltimore Convention Center, and City Officials to monitor this situation closely. Safety of course is a major priority for all of our guests, staff, and visitors. Accordingly, there is increased security at the Convention Center and all area hotels. We have been assured that our guests should feel comfortable coming to the event and that travel should not be affected.”


AHA canceled its QCOR (Quality of Care and Outcomes Research) 2015 conference, slated for the Hilton Baltimore on April 29–May 1. “We regret that we had to make that decision,” AHA President Elliott Antman, M.D., says in a video posted on AHA’s blog on April 27. “Our hearts go out to the residents of Baltimore, but our paramount concern was the safety of the individuals who would be participating in this meeting.”


The Baltimore children’s hospital’s Storybook Gala was scheduled at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore on Saturday, May 2. Because of what Tammany Buckwalter, MWPH’s director of provider relations and events, called “the violence and anticipated protests continuing to rock the city of Baltimore,” MWPH switched venues, moving the 600-person fundraising event to the Maryland State Fairgrounds’ Home Arts Building in nearby Timonium, Maryland. “As you can imagine, a state fairground facility lacks everything we were getting from the hotel,” Buckwalter said in a statement. “We are working with a shell of a structure and bringing in everything to transform the room to host 600-plus guests for the event. We were able to exercise our force majeure under our contract, which will help us recoup some of our costs. I had also taken out event-cancellation insurance, and hope to recoup the added expenses of the move through that policy.”


AFCEA postponed its Defensive Cyber Operations Symposium, originally scheduled at the convention center on May 5–7, to June 16–18. “The safety of symposium participants has been our highest priority as we’ve examined all options for the Defensive Cyber Operations Symposium,” Bob Wood, AFCEA’s executive vice president and a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, said in an April 29 statement on AFCEA’s website. “After conferring with the Baltimore Convention Center, city officials, and mission partners, AFCEA has decided to reschedule the event…. Our mission partners remain strongly supportive of this decision and this event.”


The SATURN (SEI Architecture Technology User Network) 2015 Conference went ahead as planned at the Lord Baltimore Hotel on April 27–30. SEI declined to discuss its decision-making process, with a spokesman noting simply on the following Monday: “We’ve decided that out of respect for the people of Baltimore and the important events that were taking place there last week, we don’t want to do media interviews.”

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.