The Life Saving Convention Center: Serving Essential Public Safety Roles during Local Emergencies
The Orange County Convention Center has become ground zero in the public safety response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Six days a week, thousands of residents are being vaccinated against the coronavirus at the Convention Center site.
Since the pandemic first hit, the Convention Center has turned from its mission of economic development to a local and regional health care hub. Its remote parking location has successfully administered approximately 300,000 COVID-19 tests since March 2020. Since December 2020, it has supported the distribution of more than 100,000 vaccines to local residents.
“Being able to move the Office of Emergency Management into the North Concourse during this pandemic has been critical to successfully testing and vaccinating our community,” said Lauraleigh Avery, Orange County Emergency Manager. “The Convention staff has also provided invaluable support and has been ready to help with anything we need, including storage of the vaccine.”
As one of the nation’s largest convention center in the country (7 million sq. ft. total – 2.1 million sq. ft. of exhibitor space), the Orange County Convention Center has ample space to hold a variety of equipment and personnel.
For years, the Orange County Convention Center has served as the state’s designated staging area for hundreds of public safety and emergency responder vehicles and aircraft from across the nation during weather emergencies.
For example, during Hurricane Irma in 2017, the Convention Center served a crucial role for the entire state. The Convention Center housed Duke Energy, OUC, Black Hawk helicopters, Red Cross vehicles, etc. and a host of various military branches and offices from all across the country.
“Orange County Government and the Convention Center are vital partners that provide continuous support during state emergency responses, including COVID-19,” said Florida Division of Emergency Management Deputy Director Kevin Guthrie. “Its efforts to protect Floridians during disasters contribute greatly to the State Emergency Response Team.”
With its enormous size and strong logistical support capabilities, the Convention Center is gaining industry-wide recognition as a model for safely hosting live events. From March to Dec. 2020, it successfully hosted more than 50 events under modified operations. Despite the pandemic, visiting conventions and trade shows donated nearly $840,000 in funds and merchandise, and approximately 1.1 million pounds of goods to Orange County non-profit organizations this fiscal year.
“The Convention Center is an essential community partner that helps our state partners and our Emergency Management Team, and protects needed equipment and people,” added Chief Avery. “Having this resource is immeasurable, as other counties are dependent on us because we have such a large space. With COVID-19, we’re all in this together and are responding to this mission as efficiently as we can. This is a team effort, and the Convention Center is a huge part of that.”
Photo cutline: Orange County Convention Center serves as a statewide staging area during Hurricane Irma.