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Well, it’s almost time for the seething mass of humanity known as New York Comic Con to kick off, and I think half the people I know want a badge.

While it wasn’t quite the anxiety and heartbreak of getting San Diego Comic-Con badge, the whole “fan verification” ordeal and hoop jumping made it even harder to get a badge for NYCC this year than in years past. One friend who I have been able to sort out with a day pass in the past suggested that she could get via the old sneaking the badge in and out, and I had to explain no, all the tapping in and out is expressly meant to stop that kind of fast and loose badge sharing.

It’s tough to explain that even I, the Mighty Mighty Beat, can’t get extra badges, but….I can’t. There’s way more security in place this year than in the past, and frankly, I’m glad. If there’s ONE THING everyone knows about New York Comic Con it’s that it’s too damn crowded! Last year (or maybe it was the year before, it kinds of blends together) the hall to artist’s alley became horribly crowded, and an outside path had to be opened up.

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This was only the latest in a long running series of log jams, starting with the very first con, which got so crowded that the hall got shut down for hours on Saturday and state troopers were called in the manage things.

ReedPOP can’t really sell fewer badges, because they need to make money running the show, but they can spread things out more –– big events at the Hammerstein Ballroom, and Madison Square Garden, and the Book Con annex at Hudson Mercantile are meant to get people AWAY from the hellish Javits Center and into the compartively free and unfettered streets of west Midtown.

A couple of very recent incidents brought home to me the necessity of limiting the number of people in one spot at one time. At both Baltimore Comic Con and SPX this year, there were fire alarms that caused mass evacuations. At Baltimore, someone pulled a fire alarm at 6 pm Saturday, the prime time for last minute deal making, and a very inconvenient time, as after the all clear came it was just too late to reopen.

I wasn’t on the floor when the alarm went off, and I don’t know how many people had to go outside, but by all accounts it was fairly peaceful and uneventful. Here’a video someone made.

(BONUS: Here’s a video I made in my brief “videographer” days of a previous fire alarm situation 10 year ago with a brief appearance by Dan DiDio.)

At SPX, the “meeting area” had to be evacuated during Saturday night’s party, reportedly after a fog machine at the annual Prom set off a fire alarm. In this case, it was a very orderly procession, and really, only a few hundred people.

As benign as these events were, it did make me think: What if something really DID happen during a Comic Con? If sprinklers went off, damaging hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of dollars worth of comics and original art, does individual insurance cover it? Or the con? I asked a few people and no one seemed to know.

Public facilities like convention centers are designed with safety in mind, but I don’t think the kind of crowds that comic cons draw were necessarily taken into account. Baltimore, to name just one example, is located below ground level and the exits are up the stairs. (I believe there is a loading dock in the back, but I’ve never seen it.) If there really was a rush to get out, the stairs alone would be quite crowded.

As I’ve mentioned many many times, The Javits Center was designed for crowds of 30,000 not 150,000, or however many people actually show up each day at NYCC. There is a loading dock exit at the back of the hall on the main floor, but once again, huge crowds would have to rush up stairs, and if you are physically challenged, that would be very very challenging. 

I’m sure Torsten will be along any minute with more scientific discussion of this.

Anyhoo, all of this reminded me of the actual reason that fire marshals constantly inspect comic cons and shut them down when they get too crowded: if there was an actual fire or other disaster, people would not be able to get out. (Yes, yes, I know the joke is that in NYC the fire marshal also responds well to payola, but there is a safety concern as well.)

While San Diego Comic-Con’s lack of space gets most of the headlines, NYCC is technically a larger show now, and the crowding problem is much worse. Everyone knows the Javits is a hellish purgatory of bad, expensive food and confidence sapping beige walls , but we’re stuck with it for a long time. Even the pleasant North Hall, where Artist Alley is held, will be going away after this year when it’s razed to add another, larger wing, as shown in this rendering.

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New areas created by the expansion include a 60,000-square-foot ballroom, with an additional 500,000 square feet of continuous space on the same level, resulting in a fivefold increase for meeting and ballroom space. It will also feature the largest ballroom in the Northeast, according to the Governor’s office.

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PS: For comparison here’s an aerial shot of the current Javits center:

Jacob K Javits Convention Center, Green Roof, Location: New York NY, Architect: Richard Rogers and James Ingo Freed
Jacob K Javits Convention Center, Green Roof, Location: New York NY, Architect: Richard Rogers and James Ingo Freed

One hopes the new addition will feature the airy ceilings and ample bathrooms of the existing North Hall, and not the Brutalist low-ceilinged, hold-it-or-wear-a-Depends facilities of the main hall.

New York Comic Con will be fun and a grand exhibition of pop culture in all its grungy glory. It will also be crowded. And that’s the way it’s going to be for a while.

 

5 COMMENTS

  1. I was there last year, that’s when you had to go outside to leave Artist Alley back to the main area. Which was fine because it was sunny and warm. Watch out if it’s raining the weekend. People will go nuts if they have to take their new artwork outside in the damp.

    I love NYCC. It was my first con and I’ve been to three of them. But last year was my last for awhile. Time to try other, hopefully less crowded, cons.

  2. Evacuation of Javits?
    Well, in every fire situation, the elevators stop working, to avoid people being trapped, but also to reserve them for firefighters going up. HVAC also shuts down.

    In New York City:
    In most tall buildings, the fire floor, and the floor above, is evacuated. Everyone else shelters in place. One staircase is usually reserved for firefighters moving upwards.

    Evacuation of large amounts of people, including those who are physically challenged?
    Consider the 50,000 occupants of the former World Trade Center.
    Many wheelchairs were carried down those stairs.

    As for Javits? Every building in New York City has a central fire station, usually in the lobby. This tells exactly where the alarms are, (At McCormick Place in Chicago, you can see one on the way to the Hyatt, across from the coat check, and there’s one in the West Building near the concierge desk on the lower level.)

    I suspect, that at Javits, the alarms are silent, and the Fire Safety Director or whomever is watching the security cameras will investigate quickly any alarms before further action, probably via the maintenance staff who are constantly emptying trash cans next to the fire stations on the show floor.

    Of course, if a fire is visible, then people will react instantly.

    Evacuation at Javits? Not hard…
    Level One evacs to the back of house, exiting onto Twelfth Street. (Hall 1A has unfettered access… sometimes that back door is open for freight.) I believe 1A and 1E also can evac on the sides….
    The food court and back of house on the east side of the floor… there are emergency exits along that wall on Eleventh, between 37th and 38th.

    Level Two exits out onto the street… either level with Eleventh, or underneath the bus stop, where people turn right towards 34th or Twelfth, or up the stairs to the main entrance on Eleventh.
    Level Three exits directly onto Eleventh via the main entrance (those revolving doors were replaced with regular doors… lots of capacity) , or down one level to the concourse exits. On the show floor, there are emergency exits on the north and south sides (3A, 3E), as well as via the loading docks to the back. 3E has the big entrance, the others have escalators (staircases). Plus emergency stairwells.
    Level Four: via the main entrance on the Third Floor (via staircases and escalators, not ideal), or via the River Pavilion, which has two balconies which evac down to Twelfth Avenue and the loading docks.

    North Hall exits all over… emergency exits on the north and south sides, plus the main entrance and back of house.
    Also, the NYPD parks their cars in front of North, so response is instantaneous.
    FDNY Rescue 1 is north on 43rd.
    FDNY Engine 34/Ladder 21 are on 38th, near the Lincoln Tunnel knot.
    FDNY EMS Station 7 is underneath the High Line at 23rd Street.
    Most emergencies would probably be sent to Mount Sinai West, straight up Tenth Avenue, or further east to Mount Sinai Beth Israel or Bellevue.

    If mass evacuation is necessary, the MTA has a bus terminal directly north of the North Hall.
    There’s also a New York Waterways ferry terminal behind the North Hall, and the other piers can be commandeered for evacuation.

    Now… when do we start talking about Matthew?
    http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/graphics_at4.shtml?5-daynl#contents
    Parts of Javits are in the High Risk zone for flooding. (Source: FEMA)

  3. I remember one year a moderate earthquake hit the LA area a few days after SDCC, and I found myself wondering what might happen if even that level of quake hit near San Diego during the con. Major crowding, with lots of people travelling from areas that aren’t familiar with earthquakes. If the place needed to be evacuated, how would it go? If it was strong enough to knock things over on the main floor, or even just panic a few people in their first earthquake, what would that do to the crowd?

    Thinking about that made me really appreciate fire marshals’ crowd limits even more than just being stuck trying to cross the con floor under normal circumstances.

    (And now I’m thinking about the fact that the Long Beach convention center is built on fill, making it prime liquefaction territory in a strong enough quake, and I’m wondering about San Diego’s convention center.)

  4. I’ve been in hall evacuations twice in Phoenix, one in the middle of the afternoon on Sunday, the other right before the show opened on Friday. Both times things went smoothly for the evacuations. There wasn’t any panic. A lot of the cosplayers helped with getting the crowd out of the buildings and the local Police and Fire departments praised how orderly it was. Of course, those we not the highest traffic times (Maybe 30K people at most when the full attendance was in the 70K range). It’s definitely not something I’d like to take part in at either NYCC or San DIego.

  5. What are you talking about…”the Brutalist low-ceilinged, hold-it-or-wear-a-Depends facilities of the main hall.”. Perhaps you need to visit the Javits Center again as the ceilings are very high and who can forget the Crystal Palace’s towering atrium ceiling! As for those drab walls, pay a new visit and see the transformation as those walls are now bright, colorful and part of a great renovation plan that includes a seven acre green roof the largest on the east and second largest in the country!

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