ATLANTA — Telecom networking vendors faced an even more subdued atmosphere than anticipated at the NetWorld+Interop convention here following Tuesdays terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. With many large exhibitors packing up to leave the trade show within hours of the news, the show floor closed 4 hours early and keynote addresses were canceled.
“Suddenly you looked around, and the only people left on the show floor had vendor badges on,” said Steve Wilkins, director of product marketing at Maxtor Corp. in Milpitas, Calif. “And half of them had cell phones glued to their ears.”
At the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta, N+I organizers polled exhibitors Tuesday morning to determine whether to shut down early, said Valerie Williamson, the shows president. “It was their choice to pack up,” she said. “We shut down the show floor out of respect for the tragedy today. Some exhibitors wanted to go home.”
While several of the largest exhibitors, including Microsoft Corp. and AT&T Corp., let staff leave the show early, the vendors were not allowed to remove their exhibits and gear Tuesday. “We cant move freight in or move freight out because of security reasons,” Williamson said. “Its a precautionary measure.”
Having experienced a terrorist attack while hosting the 1996 Olympics, Atlanta reacted quickly to the news. The CNN tower adjacent to the Congress Center closed immediately following the attacks, as did the neighboring Coca Cola headquarters. The subway station at the Congress Center was also closed.
Few at the show were able to concentrate on networking gear as exhibitors and attendees, far from home, commiserated over changing travel plans and worries about friends and families.
For at least one exhibitor, however, the state of unrest spurred increased traffic at its booth. Novell Connecting Points, a service designed specifically for trade show attendees to access the Internet and send e-mail, provided an unexpected emergency service, remaining open Tuesday afternoon after all other exhibitors closed down.
“This is usually a branding opportunity for us, but it actually became of real service for the convention goers,” said Rhet Thalman, a contractor with Connecting Points. “They originally asked us to shut down, but we decided to stay open so that exhibitors could check in at home. The ripple effects of this travesty touch everybody in the United States, including everybody here.”
Business as usual prevailed at N+Is conferences and tutorials throughout Tuesday afternoon, however. “People dont pay to go to the exhibits,” said Shelly Julien, vice president of marketing at NetMotion Wireless in Seattle. “But these are paid conferences. I think people dont want to see the terrorists win. One way they get to win is if they manage to disrupt us.”
In the first 2 hours of the show Tuesday morning, about 50 people visited NetMotions booth, Julien said. In the next 2 hours, about seven people did.
JP Davis and Co. held its usual PressOne press reception in spite of everything; a JP Davis executive said most of the press members were stuck in the city and needed a diversion — a sentiment widely expressed.
“Its hard to talk about this,” said JoAnna Schooler, media relations manager for Agere Systems in Berkeley Heights, N.J., gesturing to a table of wireless LAN hardware, “when what were thinking about is this,” turning toward the 10-foot screen that was broadcasting CNN.