Smart City Networks Keeps Houston Connected in Hurricane Harvey Aftermath

September 8, 2017

Smart City Networks has been playing a different kind of role in Houston this past week.

Instead of supporting the technology and data needs of trade shows at the convention facilities it serves, the company has been working overtime to help Hurricane Harvey survivors stay in touch with their loved ones and other resources at several emergency shelters throughout Texas, including the George R. Brown Convention Center and NRG Park in Houston.

“Smart City began in Houston more than 30 years ago,” explained Mark Haley, president of Smart City Networks. “It was a top priority for us to keep emergency response teams and those affected connected when it matters the most.”

On Sept. 5, the telecommunications provider hosted Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai at both Houston facilities to review the communications infrastructure and provide a behind-the-scenes look at how these systems are supporting those in the community who need them most.

“We had a productive meeting with Chairman Pai to give the FCC a thorough update on not only our efforts at our Houston facilities to support the local community, but also in how we design networks that work reliably for both trade shows and unexpected events like Harvey,” Haley said.

He continued, “The network that we installed at the GRB in 2016 in advance of the Super Bowl and the amount of bandwidth on hand is more than capable enough to handle the peak number of survivors in the shelter at the GRB, approximately 10,000-12,000 people. We continue to make Free WiFi available to all survivors still housed at the GRB and NRG Park, along with any ancillary services (and) will do so as long as the shelters are in place.”

Telecommunication infrastructures at the GRB and NRG Park include automated redundancy and safeguards that have been built into the networks to ensure reliability in natural disasters such as hurricanes.

Smart City also opened up WiFi throughout both facilities and deployed hardline telephones, wired internet drops and power drops for people to keep their cell phones and other devices charged, as required by City of Houston officials and the Red Cross.

In addition to the two shelters in Houston, the company also played an essential role in telecommunication efforts at shelters opened in the Ft. Worth Convention Center and the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, providing WiFi throughout both venues along with hardline phones, internet drops and VLAN connections for emergency responders and the Red Cross.

But with its home base in Central Florida, how does Smart City plan to respond to Hurricane Irma and the soon-to-be impacted communities there?

“We have a great deal of experience in emergency preparedness from our operations at the Orange County Convention Center over the past 15 years, as well as our sister company, Smart City Telecom (SCT), which is the local ISP in Orlando and also provides telecommunications for Disney World,” Haley explained.

He added, “SCT has worked with Disney over the past 20 years in handling major hurricanes and storms in Central Florida and together have developed a detailed Emergency Preparation Program that is currently in place for Hurricane Irma.”

At this time, Smart City is monitoring the oncoming storm and waiting to see if any of its Florida convention center clients will be declared shelters.

“The Miami Beach and Tampa Convention Centers are both closed for the storm and our understanding is that they will not be used as shelters,” Haley said.

He continued, “All events in Orlando have been canceled as well and we are awaiting further direction on how the venue will be utilized for any support efforts. If they are, our team will be ready to jump into action to provide the same services we provided in Houston. In the meantime, our priority is making sure our local team members and their families are safe as the storm passes through.”

With operations in more than 35 convention venues across the U.S., Smart City considers itself a vital part of each of those communities, and when those facilities and communities are impacted, the company feels a responsibility to respond, Haley added.

“As things settle out in Houston, there will be numerous opportunities for other trade show-related companies to support recovery efforts of both the venues, to get shows and events rolling and people working, as well as efforts to help local people rebuild their houses, such as the PCMA Harvey Relief Fund,” he said.

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Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? 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