PHXCC 2013: Phoenix Comicon Evacuated!

Around 4:00 PM today Downtown Phoenix saw a flood of superheroes, Doctors, zombies, and others flood into the streets after an alarm prompted the evacuation of the entire convention center at the tail end of Phoenix Comicon. At the time there was very little information given and the cause of the emergency was unknown. Even the alarm said “we have been alerted of an emergency situation, please exit the building orderly.”

What followed was perhaps the most orderly evacuation that I have ever been involved in. At the time I was in a panel on fandom and individuals with handicaps when Therese walked in and the alarm started going off. (Like, literally, she opened the door and the alarm started going off – it was hilarious.) We joined the throng of people moving out of the building.

To put the number into perspective, consider that Phoenix Comicon 2012 saw 32,127 attendees. This was a Sunday so the number wasn’t nearly that high but it was still probably pretty damn high. We were able to move fairly quickly from our second floor panel meeting room down to the first floor and out on to the street. It took a bit longer for the Exhibit Hall which was downstairs to be evacuated from what I understand but convention staff and on-site security were very much on top of things. They did a fantastic job as did the attendees.

When we heard the alarm we assumed that it was just a false alarm. When you get a lot of people into one place that sometimes happens. People are stupid and pull the fire alarm. I think a lot of people probably thought that which may have helped with the orderly manner of the evacuation. And while the Arizona Republic and ABC15 continue to report that it was a false alarm, word has come back from the convention that it was anything but that.

Phoenix Comicon staff posted on their Facebook page:

We believe from what we have heard there was smoke in one of the third level meeting rooms, thus a valid fire alarm. We have done a fantastic job. We will give more information as soon as we get official information from police and fire department. We are extending hours in Exhibitor Hall open until 6:30. ~SM

Later, they added an update with the official word from the Phoenix Convention Center staff:

On May 26 at 4:06pm a fire alarm was activated on the third level of the Phoenix Convention Center’s North Building resulting in the evacuation of both the North and West Buildings. Phoenix Fire Department arrived at 4:10pm and determine the buildings safe for return at 4:19pm. Phoenix Convention Center staff is investigating the cause of the alarm. ~SM

Bleeding Cool has said that it was a malfunction with a fire extinguisher which caused something like smoke to billow out of a third floor window and not an actual fire. It’s important to note that the third floor of the convention center was blocked off and the stairways and escalators usually guarded by security so they were inaccessible to convention attendees or staff.

After everyone was let back in the photo ops and signings resumed. The Exhibit Hall – which was scheduled to close at 5:00 PM – was left open an hour and a half longer until 6:30 PM to allow for fans to make up that 30-45 minutes they lost during the evacuation. ‘Programming resumed’ though I’m not sure if they pushed back panels or how they handled that. All the panels I had planned to attend today had already ended – or were in the process of ending – when the evacuation occurred.

As far as I know, the only injury that occurred during the evacuation was to my pride. Also: my arm. When we crossed over the light rail tracks and on to the other side of the road from the convention center I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going and managed to walk into a cactus. After which Therese laughed at me first and then helped me pull the barbs out.

Just like Wil Wheaton, I was rather proud of everyone and glad to see that everyone took the incident seriously. Because, you know. Apparently it actually was serious! Not dangerous, obviously, and quickly fixed. But still.

It was also nice to see that some people even took advantage of the situation to get closer to the ones they loved.

9 responses to “PHXCC 2013: Phoenix Comicon Evacuated!

  1. As one of the many throngs of volunteers that work Comicon, THANK YOU!!! We work really hard on this event and it seems that at times no one understands the hours that are put in on it. THANK YOU again for appreciating how all of the volunteers handled what could have been a devastating situation.

  2. So, my hubby and I were with Wil Wheaton when the fire alarm with off. We were in costume as The Cantina Banned. We hoped that the photographer had at least pressed the button for the photo because we were all ready and waiting for the picture. But, alas, no. Now we have nothing to show for it, not even the piece of paper that we needed to get his picture. That really bites.

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