Congratulations to The Rhode Island Comic Con organization for blowing way past their turn-out in 2013, on Saturday alone! However, it seems that the Rhode Island Convention Center wasn’t ready for the big leagues.
On November 1st, 2014, a little prior to 3pm, the RI State Fire Marshall shut down the registration area of the Convention Center due to the Center reaching capacity This meant that no one new was allowed to enter the RI Comic Con.
I was covering the convention for Nerd-Base. On Saturday, I arrived prior to the debacle. However, I never received a convention program. I inquired with RICC staff where I could get pick one up and was directed down to the first floor, where registration takes place. Now, the convention events themselves took place on all floors above the first such as the vendor floor, panels, signings, etc. No one stopped me from going down that escalator. After all, I had my pass, other people had bracelets, and all seemed good. However, as I and others traveled down that escalator, it was clear that something was very wrong.
Once at the bottom we entered a mob. Not just any mob. But a mob of angry fanatics… a collective tinder box of bat-men, teenage turtles, and Sith lords. Not even an army of Deadpools could break the 4th wall of comedy in this situation. I pushed through the crowd to an area that security had roped off.
“No one is allowed in.”
“I just came down,” I said. “I was told that I should get a program down here.”
“I’m sorry but we’ve reached capacity. I can’t let anyone in.”
Apparently, the State Fire Marshall shut down any new attendees from entering … or rather ANY attendees. That included people that went looking for programs, anyone that pre-ordered a ticket, anyone that JUST bought a ticket, and anyone that went outside for even a smoke. Heck, I was told that Gold member VIP’s that shelled out over $300 for a ticket weren’t allowed in! What does that mean? That means I was in a packed room full of really angry people with even more angry people lined up down West Exchange St. outside in the freezing rain. Even worse than that, I talked to vendors and artists that couldn’t get back in to man their unattended tables such as famed artist J. David Spurlock (Vanguard Productions) who walked out earlier to get lunch! (He managed to sneak back in). I was also told that invited guests could not get in but it was unconfirmed who those guests were. Sure, let’s just see what happens when we don’t let people see the William Shatner panel. q_q
I began asking questions from convention staff and security and police. No one seemed to actually know what the capacity of the Center was. I was told by multiple people that only the room capacities were known but not the hallways in-between. Some numbers were thrown around for how many were already inside… 16,000 people…. 18,000…. 20,000. It became clear that the Convention Center was completely unprepared for a single event of this magnitude. In fact, I was told by many sources that the Comic Con was the only (and largest) event to ever exceed the Center’s capacity. Nerd pride! However, that didn’t help the situation. I think that once the officials saw me taking pictures and asking questions, then went away into a private room. Perhaps they realized they had a problem as more people filled the lobby. The solution? Kick them ALL out into the freezing rain.
For the next approximately two hours, people could not get in to the convention, let along the lobby. Then slowly, they began to filter them in as others left.
I’m not really sure who is to blame here. Perhaps the Rhode Island Comic Con folks ignored a capacity cap. I think it is more likely that the Convention Center was truly unprepared. Perhaps the Fire Marshall was just having a bad day. To be fair, in the middle of the day, things became a bit crowded in the vendor room. However, not so much that I felt like things got out of control… not like NYCC 2014 anyway.
In any case, I think matters were handled fairly poorly. A riot situation was not impossible. I was told by staffers that there was no mechanism in place for ticket refunds. It all added up badly. Luckily for everyone involved, nothing terrible occurred.
…and I snuck back in too.