Fire alarm triggers Phoenix Convention Center evac, ending Saturday’s Comic Fest events (UPDATED)

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Sunday reopening planned (updated)

The Phoenix Convention Center was evacuated Saturday night during Phoenix Comic Fest.

The event’s staff said that a fire alarm triggered the evacuation. Phoenix police confirmed to media that there was no fire, and said a faulty sensor was suspected.

A nerd poetry slam was canceled and will be rescheduled post-con and offsite at Space 55. A costume contest judging was underway when the evacuation was ordered.

Attendees waiting outside in the 80-degree evening heat were given bottled water by convention staff as they queued up (again) hoping the Phoenix Convention Center evac order would be cleared before midnight, when the event was set to end for the day. They played games and had sing-alongs to pass the time for more than two hours, but were told about 10:45 p.m. to clear the area and leave for the day.

Masquerade guests were told they could wait to get in and retrieve their keys, but must wait (in the air-conditioned Hyatt) until a process for that was figured out.

Saturday badge holders on site during the evacuation were eligible to get a free wristband that would let them come back Sunday, according to Phoenix Comic Fest. (UPDATE: Saturday single-day credentials will be honored and exchanged for Sunday single-day passes — more below.)

Phoenix Comic Fest started Thursday and was to run through Sunday. As of 11 p.m. Saturday, a Sunday opening was not even certain. (See UPDATE below.) Guests were told to watch Phoenix Comic Fest emails and social media for updates, and a 7 a.m. Sunday morning press conference was planned at Second Street and Adams in front of the Convention Center’s west building. If Sunday happens, big Saturday night events could be restaged.

Last year’s event, which was still known as Phoenix Comicon, suffered a security breach when a heavily armed, armored man entered the Convention Center and made threats, leading to increased security measures this year.

Heavily armed, armored man arrested at Phoenix Comicon, leading to enhanced security and prop weapons ban

UPDATE: Phoenix Comic Fest to reopen Sunday after Phoenix Convention Center evac Saturday

Early Sunday morning, Phoenix Comic Fest staff announced the the event was reopening after a fire alarm triggered a Phoenix Convention Center evacuation Saturday night.

Square Egg Entertainment marketing manager Kristin Rowan issued the following statement in a press release:

We have met with the Phoenix Convention Center, security providers, and fire department officials. Phoenix Comic Fest will continue as planned on Sunday, May 27th. We anticipate all security checkpoints will open on time based on posted hours.

All attendees with a Saturday single day credential will be allowed to exchange it at any redemption station for a Sunday credential. Attendees are asked to bring the Saturday wristband with them if possible.
Exhibitors will be able to enter at 8 am at any entrance. Staff and crew will report at scheduled times so we can be prepared to have a fantastic final day of Phoenix Comic Fest 2018.

Phoenix Convention Center and Phoenix Comic Fest will hold a media briefing at 7 am Sunday morning at 2nd Street and Adams, in front of the Phoenix Convention Center West Building.

Square Egg Entertainment would like to thank the Phoenix Police Department, Phoenix Fire Department, EMTs, Pride Group, CSC, IPSA, The Phoenix Convention Center, Unified Command, MSA, and our staff and crew for their dedication and hardwork in keeping all of us safe, but we would especially like to thank you, our attendees, who we consider part of our geek family, for your support, your patience, and your understanding.

A later Sunday morning press release from Rowan, announcing a name change for 2019’s event, said organizers had learned a lot from 2017’s security challenges and applied that to procedures that helped minimize the impact of the evacuation.

“We spent the greater part of a year developing these plans and I’m pleased to say that they worked,” Rowan wrote. “Although we were hoping not to have to find out, the safety and communication plans we developed were executed without delay and, thankfully, without injury during the evacuation. …

“Despite the incident last night and the suspension of programming, we have had an amazing event and expect today to be a great closing day of fun and exciting experiences for all our attendees.”

Sunday Phoenix Comic Fest schedule notes

Rowan said the Masquerade Costume Contest that was interrupted Saturday night would resume Sunday at 4:30 p.m. in Ballroom 301, and passes for a meet-and-greet with artist Greg Capullo and writer Scott Snyder that was also interrupted would be honored for 10 a.m. signings at their booths.

For the Kids Need to Read fundraiser that was cancelled Saturday night, refunds will be available (and guests were reminded they can donate directly to the charity at its booth in the exhibit hall).

There was a fair amount of confusion Saturday night as crowds waited and eventually dispersed.

One attendee told Nerdvana: “Square Egg employees was telling us that they planned to still have the Masquerade and other large events when/if they got the all clear, even if that meant going over midnight. While he was still explaining that, one of the Pride (security) employees interrupted that the event and center were closed for the night, and to make an quick, orderly, and safe exit. We could come back in the morning.

“Some folks left right away, others said that they wanted to hear that from a Square Egg employee. Eventually three Square Egg temps told us the news about the plans for the night’s big events such as Masquerade, watching our emails to see if/when the the show would open.”

There was an expected level of social media grumbling, of course, but also more an understanding that the city and convention were doing their best to ensure the safety of the public and not take any chances. The same attendee said: “Information was fairly fluid through the night, but they were doing a decent job of trying to keep everyone up to date, hydrated, and comping the Saturday-only folks.”

More coverage of Phoenix Comic Fest 2018:

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Jayson Peters

Digital, social and print media pro. Nerdvana's founder, curator and editor.

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