. From Exhibitions to Emergency Services: How Event Companies Are Pivoting to Help in the Fight Against COVID-19 | Northstar Meetings Group

From Exhibitions to Emergency Services: How Event Companies Are Pivoting to Help in the Fight Against COVID-19

Drive-through testing sites, emergency hospital setups and face-mask production are some of ways vendors are helping the cause.

A driving-through testing tent EventQuip set up at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals.
A driving-through testing tent EventQuip set up at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals. Photo Credit:Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals

Coronavirus and Meetings
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The coronavirus pandemic has brought the events industry to screeching halt. But rather than dwell on cancelled business, event professionals have thrown themselves head-first into providing aid. 

Convention centers are quickly being transformed into emergency hospitals and vendors are stepping up to do their part as well. Across the country, event companies are offering up their services to build drive-through testing sites, makeshift hospital rooms, personal protective equipment and more.

"There's few industries historically that go to zero like this. We went from having business one month to zero the next. Even restaurants and hotels have some level of activity," said Chris Valentine, CEO of T3 Expo, which provides trade show and event services. "For the events industry to pick itself up and stay viable in this is a huge reflection of the industry's resolve and ability to adapt to whatever the problem is."

Below are some of the ways meeting professionals are helping out amid the coronavirus crisis.

Emergency Hospitals 

Among the growing list of convention centers being converted into makeshift hospitals is the Javits Center. The New York venue is at the epicenter of the virus and needed to be quickly transformed to accommodate COVID-19 patients. T3 Expo, in coordination with FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, helped build hospital rooms, nurses stations and signage for crowd control in just three days. In coordination with the plastic fabrication company Gilman Brothers, T3 Expo also built 1,000 beds for Western Connecticut University's O'Neill Center, which is being transformed into an emergency hospital.

All parties involved are being compensated for their work, including unions who helped on the Javits Center and O'Neill Center. According to Valentine, event professionals are agile, creative problem-solvers used to working on the go and under quick deadlines -- skills that have allowed them to mobilize quickly in the fight against COVID-19 and find new ways to keep business moving.

"We're used to building things in a very mobile and agile fashion," he noted. "In this industry, you have to transform spaces very quickly and be able to work and mobilize teams very quickly. It's kind of repurposing everything we would do for a trade show to build a hospital instead."

Drive-Through Testing Sites

In addition to hospitals, event companies are busy building more testing sites to accommodate the growing number of coronavirus cases. EventQuip, for example, is putting its tent rental services to good use by shipping and setting up emergency response testing facilities throughout New Jersey, Delaware and the greater Philadelphia region. 

The company can build drive-through testing tents, medical examination tents and command centers. Drive-through testing tents have been already been set up at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia and a pop up on the EventQuip homepage invites anyone to submit an emergency tenting request. The facilities, which help alleviate congestion at hospitals and accelerate testing, can be delivered and installed in as quickly as one to three days. 

"I think it's important for everyone to step up right now and when we looked at it, we knew we could help," said founder and owner Ed Knight. "We're dispatching tents as quickly as we can. If an order comes to us in the morning, we will deliver it that day."

Personal Protective Equipment

Some companies are even developing protective equipment to help health-care workers on the front lines, where a lack of masks is growing more dire by the day.

In New York, PRG Scenic Technologies is working with NYU Langone Health and two sub-contracting companies to manufacture face shields. The project aims to create nearly 300,000 pieces in just under two weeks. PRG's Germany office is also working on equipping a makeshift hospital at the Berlin Expo Center.

"We are responding to the rapidly changing needs of our customers during this emergency, and with projects like these taking shape around the globe, we are actively at work in the fight against the coronavirus," said Jere Harris, the company's chairman and CEO. "PRG has resources with direct applicability to this important cause, and we take great pride in playing a role."

Care Packages for Those in Need

The elderly are among the most vulnerable populations to coronavirus. For those who are older, a regular trip to the grocery store could be life-threatening. But companies such as Yahire, which provides event furniture and catering services, are bringing meals and essential materials directly to those in need.

The British-based company has teamed up with Age UK, a charity for the elderly, as well as food brands Heinz, Whitworths, McVitie's and Scoff Meals to provide isolation care packages to elderly people in the U.K. Leveraging its warehouses, fleet of trucks and skilled workers, Yahire has begun prepping and packaging more than 500,000 items. Its first shipment was sent out last week.

"With the events industry on pause and COVID-19 causing a serious risk to life as we know it, the Yahire team wanted to keep busy and productive at this challenging time," said co-founder and sales director Taran O'Doherty. "Hundreds of thousands of items are on their way to help those in need. It is amazing to be involved in something so special."