BtoB

Hurricane underscores fragile connections

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As a reporter, I found myself hoping for assignments that would take me to New Orleans, a unique American city that was, until two weeks ago, a popular choice for trade shows and events. Our page 1 story in this issue examines the future of New Orleans' trade show business and how marketers and event planners are reacting in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's devastation. Our coverage includes an up-to-date listing of shows that have rescheduled and announced new venues.

Will shows return to the city by next April, as the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau optimistically states? That seems very unlikely. At the moment, no timetable has been set for renovations to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, one of the largest in the country, where upwards of 30,000 hurricane survivors lived in squalid conditions for days before finally being evacuated from the city.

Watching the heartbreaking coverage from the Gulf Coast, I thought about life and communications, and how we take both for granted.

As the death toll from the Gulf States rises, all of us will think deeply about the fragility of life. This is already happening, as demonstrated by the spontaneous outpouring of donations and offers of assistance from around the U.S. and the globe. To be sure, important questions will be asked about how local, state and federal government agencies responded to the disaster-and our real preparedness four years after 9/11-but those inquiries and political battles shouldn't distract the nation from its first obligations: caring for hundreds of thousands of displaced people and mourning the victims.

The disaster also uncovered a paradox in our modern, communications-intensive culture. The Internet, 24-hour news programming and ubiquitous mobile devices allow us nearly instant access to information. For instance, there are already thousands of Web sites, news feeds and blogs devoted to Katrina's impact in New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Coast. These resources provide constantly updated inf ormation-a boon to those with friends and family in the region.

But when the power is out and this mighty information network is offline, it becomes easy to forget that events continue to happen in the real world. With no reports emanating from New Orleans in the immediate wake of the storm-even cellphones don't function when their towers are blown down and network switches are submerged under water-the true magnitude of Katrina's destruction wasn't fully appreciated for a day or more by the public or, more shocking, governmental agencies. Addressing this problem may be one of the few positive lessons to come out of Hurricane Katrina.

Finally, on a personal note, I hope New Orleans recovers. Although I never visited as a tourist, I vividly remember the city's mood and music, and the meals I enjoyed there. Many Americans probably can say the same, and maybe that bodes well for the Big Easy.

Ellis Booker is editor of BtoB. He can be reached at ebooker@crain.com.

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