Another year, another Katsucon anime convention. It's back and it's bigger and better than ever. Except, this year will forever be remembered for the Fire Alarm Evacuation that upended the festivities and leaving people stranded in sub-freezing and windy weather. It wasn't all bad though and many positive things happened to make this a memorable experience. If Otakon was able to survive the Fire of 2010, then I'm sure that Katsucon will survive the Freezing Fire of 2016.
Katsucon this year was held during February 12-14, 2016 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor, MD, where it's been for the past few years. On Saturday, February 13th, I had just recently come back inside the convention center to unthaw myself after getting some food and was just about to take my first bite into my mac-and-cheese when the fire alarm started going off at around 12:45pm (give or take a few minutes). The first thought that came to mind of course was "You've got to be kidding me right? In this weather?" I looked around and everyone was confused as to what to do as no convention center staff was giving any directions and the voice over the loud speaker was practically inaudible. People just shrugged it off and continued to mind their business. I on the other hand started to inhale my food as fast as humanly possible to prepare myself to go outside. In a few minutes time after I had finished my food there was finally staff members barking orders telling everyone to evacuate the premises. And thus started the slow migration to the great outdoors.
This day was in fact the coldest day so far this Winter as the temperatures barely broke 20 degrees Fahrenheit and was extremely windy to boot. At first there was only a trickling of people heading outside, but after about five or ten more minutes people really started to pour outside as word finally reached the inner rooms, merchant halls, and hotel rooms. Apparently the fire alarm was completely inaudible in many places and thus word traveled very slowly to those parts. Many people stood around outside freezing, others took shelter in nearby stores, hotels, or cars. Some people formed groups to huddle themselves to keep themselves warm. I must admit that I was having a fun time witnessing this spectacle, but I did feel very bad and concerned for all of the people who were caught unawares and were not properly dressed for frigid cold weather.
The fire department and emergency personnel were very quick to respond to the fire alarm and EMS vehicles continued to pull up to the Gaylord one after another. It was about 1:30 pm when word reached the front of the convention center that the Fire Department was allowing people to come back into the convention center but only through the side parking garage entrance. And thus people started to herd back indoors to heat and safety. About a minute or two after I got indoors at around 1:45pm the announcement was made that the Fire Department had given the "All Clear" and so we were free to resume our activities. A loud cheer could be heard as the news was spread down the hallway. And so the whole ordeal lasted about an hour. Here are some pictures that I took during the incident:
The official word from the Fire Department was that this incident was caused by an electrical fire and the alarm was triggered by the smoke from that fire. No word from Katsucon as to where the fire occurred although some people guess that it was either one of the kitchens or possibly the Maid Cafe. Overall the convention center and Katsucon staff handled themselves very well in getting people out in an orderly fashion and some staff members were even handing out blankets/tablecloths to people to keep themselves warm since they weren't dressed appropriately for the cold. If there is any cause for concern from this incident it's the fact that the fire alarm sirens and loud speaker announcements at the Gaylord National were entirely inadequate. If a real blazing fire had occurred I'm afraid that many people would have been trapped and there could have been a catastrophic amount of casualties due to the fact that no one besides those in the lobby were able to hear the alarm.
Alright, that's probably all that I have to say about the fire incident. How about the convention itself? For one thing, I'm very confident in my guess that there was a sizable increase in attendance this year. Not only did the convention center feel like it was more crowded, but so were the parking garages. I went down on Thursday night to pick up my pre-reg badge and there was definitely a much bigger crowd there than there was last year. Although, even though it still took a long time to get my badge due to the crowd, the line moved much faster this year due to the fact that they had a lot of more registers open to process people compared to previous years. Last year I saw a lot of depression and bitterness in the air as people were upset about how long it took to get their badge, but this year most people didn't seem to mind the wait as much because the line was constantly moving. The biggest complaint from the past two years has been how insanely long the registration lines were and the reason for that was that Katsucon only had a handful of registers to process all those people. They definitely made an effort on Thursday to increase that capacity by utilizing the entire table instead of just half of the table. I'm not sure though if that continued onto Friday and Saturday but it's clear that Katsucon still needs to continue to increase the amount of registers to get people through faster as the convention continues to grow. Here are some pictures from Thursday night:
Overall the convention was run very well this year. Most events started either on time or close to on time (with exception ironically enough the Closing Ceremonies that started half an hour late). Even the Masquerade Contest which is always notorious for starting late actually kept within its schedule despite the fire setback. Katsucon continues to invite a good cast of guests from around the industry so there was definitely something to see for everyone. In terms of cosplay, Katsucon has definitely been steadily earning its reputation as the premiere cosplay convention in the region. There was just so many awesome costumes everywhere you looked.
One new thing this year was the addition of Food Truck services along the street American Way. It's definitely awesome that there are cheaper food alternatives but it would have been nice if the trucks were parked closer to the convention center. Don't get me wrong, having to walk a few blocks to the trucks is not exactly far in normal circumstances, but walking a few blocks in arctic conditions is not exactly fun. In fact, whenever I walked by there the trucks didn't seem to have very many patrons while the normal restaurants with its warm interior all seemed packed to the brim.
I honestly don't have very much to complain about this year other than my perennial grumble that they should get rid of their "no bags allowed" policy for their video game room. No other convention in this region has such a policy and it's just a pain to have to store my gear just to be able to go inside. I realize that Katsucon offers a bag check service but that still isn't exactly convenient or even possible if you have large bags/items that can't fit in their storage space. Oh, I guess another nitpick would be that Katsucon really doesn't need to direct seating for the Main Events hall unless there is an event going on that will actually take up the majority of the seats there (such as the Masquerade). It just doesn't make much sense to waste the volunteer resources in having them direct people where to sit for some events like the Opening and Closing Ceremonies where only 10% of the room was even filled.
Anyways, Katsucon this year has been a blast and I'm definitely looking forward to coming back next year. Just one last thing: "F-U Fire Nation!"
Click here to check out some of the Hall Cosplay Photos that I took.
Click here to go to my Facebook Photography page to check out the pictures that I took from various cosplay photoshoots.
Click here to go to my Youtube Channel to check out some of the videos that I recorded over the weekend include voice actress Erica Mendez's Q&A Panel, the Kill la Kill Voice Actor Panel, and the full Masquerade Contest.