Sept. 11 anniversary haunts Networld + Interop crowd

ATLANTA — One year after the terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, Networld + Interop and Comdex exhibitors say they would prefer to move on from the tragedy but were having a hard time forgetting after the U.S. was put

on high terror alert.

As the first day of the muted N+I and Comdex show came to a close, there was a group of people huddled around a television set on the exhibition floor that was piping in CNN, which broadcasts nearby.

U.S. television news channels have been concentrating on little other than the anniversary of the attacks on New York and the Pentegon in Washington in the days leading up to the show. On Tuesday, U.S. president George Bush raised the nationwide terror threat status to level orange — signifying a high risk of a terrorist attack.

The show’s organizers have posted notices about Atlanta’s remembrance events and are shortening the show’s hours on Wednesday to allow attendees and crew to take time to reflect, but Networld + Interop president Valerie Williamson says business must go on.

“”President Bush did not declare it a national holiday,”” she says. “”It’s tragic what happened last year, but at the end of the day we have a show that’s going to go on. Returning a sense of normalcy is very important. But we do want to give everyone a chance to reflect in their personal way.””

Most people at the show would just like to forget about the pandemonium of last year, says a Cannon representative, and get back to normal life.

“”Last year the show went on during the tragedy, I think mostly because everyone was stuck here,”” he says. “”It’s a little weird being away from our families on the anniversary. We’re from New Jersey. It’s strange.””

Exhibitors who were at the show last year all have stories of struggling to get home. Some rented buses, some cars. Everyone was really anxious to get to their families, says Fluke Networks marketing manager Rob Finlay.

“”I wasn’t here last year, but I’ve heard stories from everyone that was. It was tough.”” he says.

Finlay admits that he is having a bit of hard time being at the show on the anniversary of the attack.

“”Being in places where there are large gatherings of people is a bit nerve-wracking,”” he says, “”Although I think there are places where there are larger gatherings of people than this one so I think we’ll be okay.””

A number of exhibitors mentioned the diminished size of the exhibition floor and a much smaller crowd of attendees. Finlay thinks that the timing of the show may be partially responsible.

“”We’ve heard that companies are not sending out employees as much anymore,”” he says. “”But also the nice thing about this show is that it was a great show for all of the East coast companies to come to, so you’d get a lot of the same customers year after year. I think after last year, some of those people still have a bitter taste in their mouth and preferred not to come.””

Networld + Interop continues until Thursday.

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