I wish this story had a happier ending, but alas, the venue didn’t have power restored by Sunday morning and the show was cancelled. It was a heart-wrenching experience, but one that taught me / reinforced a few things, so I thought I’d share for the benefit of everyone.
Background: This weekend I was supposed to be running the O-Town Throwdown tournament as part of the Ottawa Pinball & Gameroom Show, which bills itself as Canada’s Longest Running Annual Pinball Expo. It was being held at a city-run sportsplex and was scheduled to run Saturday and Sunday. Friday during set-up a massive storm came through town and the power went out.
Turns out the storm spawned two tornadoes, one of which touched down within a couple of miles of the venue, and the station that supplied power to the facility was essentially destroyed. It was very localized damage, so there was hope that the power might be restored in time to salvage some of the show.
This meant that evolving contingency plans were required as timelines changed.
You can do a remarkable amount of set-up without electricity (with some caveats - see point 2). Machines can be leveled, the registration area can be set up, volunteers can be briefed, etc. Don’t stop setting up just because you’ve lost power! You want to have as little left to do as possible when the power comes back on.
Don’t leave administrative tasks that can be done ahead of time to the last minute. I had planned to finish setting up the scorekeepers’ accounts, finalize the games in the software, etc. All of this required Internet access. This might have delayed the start time unnecessarily.
Have an offline copy of key documentation as possible. Plan to reference manuals or Google Docs on your phone? That doesn’t work well when the cell network is overwhelmed and you can’t even make calls. Download or print anything you expect to have to reference.
Communicate the situation and your plans as best you can. Some people travel the day of and need to know if it’s worth the effort. Stick to facts and avoid speculation. I got flack for being overly positive about the possibility of holding the tournament, but that was based on the official information we were receiving and I stand by it. Present the facts and allow people to make their own decision with the information available.
Have plans B, C, D, etc. What happens if the power comes back in the next hour? In four hours? Not until the next day? Can you shift qualifying? Does it need to be shortened? What about a format change? Decide what possible scenarios are acceptable and develop various timelines accordingly.
Know what’s important to you. This will shape your fallback plans. For me the goal of this tournament was to expose the public to competitive pinball as well as generate some WPPRs, so I needed to balance accessibility and point value. Prize pool wasn’t a super critical factor, but I recognized a lot of people were travelling in, and the last thing I wanted to do was to cut my volunteers’ extra qualifying time, if I ended up sticking with best game format. YMMV. My point is that being able to articulate my priorities made it a lot easier to decide which course of action to take and defend it as required.
Acknowledge the help that you’re getting and ask if you need any. Don’t take for granted that your volunteers are going to stick around. Make sure you communicate with them specifically. Some might only have been available for a certain time, some might be willing to step up more given the circumstances.
My biggest take away was that all the planning in the world isn’t going to prevent things from going wrong, but it will make things a lot easier when they do. I am generally a very organized person (point 2 notwithstanding) and that saved my butt this weekend. (Well, it would have had the show gone on! I’m confident we could have pulled off a great tournament had power been restored.)
That and the volunteers. I am humbled by the amount of support I got during this ordeal even though the event didn’t go on. We have an amazing community and I’m proud to be a part of it.
I chose to share because I think a lot of the points are equally valid for a variety of circumstances, from temporary blackouts to network outages to just running a tournament in general.
I hope you’re able to learn from my experience! And that you aren’t faced with a disaster of this degree any time soon.