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Katsucon 2016

Katsucon 2016 was held February 12th -- 14th at the National Harbor in Oxen Hill, MD

The Convention

This year was my 20th Katsucon, having started away back in 1997. It's a testament to the convention that despite some ups and down it can still draw me and others back year after year. We can't really ask for a better location. The Gaylord National has ample convention space, there's food and shopping galore in the area, and the hotels (either the Gaylord itself or the nearby alternatives) are nice and conveniently close. And starting next year an MGM casino resort will be opening up at the other end of the National Harbor. Though Otakon Vegas and Anime Next already have gambling opportunities, Katsucon will be joining the short list of anime conventions with significant non-fandom entertainment available nearby. We'll have to see if the casino draws and older crowd, or if turns out to draw more younger fans with parents who can find their own way to occupy the weekend.

As I've said previously I feel Katsucon has found its home and niche at the Gaylord National Harbor. The hotel staff is always excellent in my experience. This year I went for an atrium view room and got extra lucky with a 2nd floor room. The convenience of it all is well worth the price. The atmosphere of the convention sticks with you and you don't have to feel like you're leaving the convention to go back to your room. That all being said, I've heard great things about the other area hotels. So if price is an issue you probably won't go wrong with any other location.

katsu_160212_144254_8441.jpgThe con staff tends to be as good as one can expect from people largely drawn from volunteers exchanging their time for a free badge and hotel room. The event staff tends to have its job cut out for them but usually handle it well. The big exception this year was the fire alarm.

In the early afternoon on Saturday the fire alarm went off. This was a legitimate alarm as smoke was actually detected in the building. Unfortunately, this lead to the evacuation of the entire facility, both the hotel and the convention center. In and of itself this wouldn't be a problem but two things went really poorly. Fire alarms only went off in one section of the facility at a time. Most people ignored them unless they were in an effected area. Con staff told people to vacate before the alarms in the area went off. A good precaution but the end result was people walking in all different directions at the same time. As each area was evacuated more and more people crowded at the doors and hallways waiting to go back. Others were going in all different directions to find friends. When it became clear the whole of the convention center and hotel were to be evacuated, large numbers of people were wholly unprepared.

It being February and on the waterfront, the outside was very cold and very windy. Instead of allowing those with the least protection against the cold to stay at the doorways and inside the heated areas, they were pushed out into the cold. I knew that a whole-building evacuation wasn't going to end any time soon, so I took the people I was with (some of them in essentially summer clothes) to find shelter. So did everybody else and the nearby hotels were overcrowded. Some even denied entry to anybody without a keycard. Though some establishments were somewhat hostile, others opened up and provided free coffee and tea to the evacuated. Eventually an ambulance was called for the person who collapsed in the cold.

So to recap, a questionably necessary evacuation was done poorly, people who were in far greater danger from the elements were pushed away from what was a small kitchen fire, and nobody thought to have a plan for the area when 20,000 plus people are suddenly outside and looking for shelter. Most of this is an issue to take up with the National Harbor than Katsucon. However I do recommend the con staff have a better contingency plan should this ever occur again.

All in all, this episode only lasted about 90 minutes and didn't really distract from the rest of the convention. Events picked up again mostly as scheduled, though unfortunately a few masquerade entrants were forced to miss their judging time slot.

I'll be going back in 2017 and hope to see you there!

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