SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION STAFF TO BE BAPTIZED IN BEDLAM
BYLINE: HARRIS, KAREN Karen Harris Staff Writer STAFF
Tim Hedquist is realistic about his role as one of the chief planners for the Southern Baptist Convention, which promises to lure about 50,000 people to the Georgia World Congress Center next week. "We're just trying to avert disaster," he said of the three-day event that is billed as the largest collection of working religious people in U.S. history. Tim Hedquist is realistic about his role as one of the chief planners for the Southern Baptist Convention, which promises to lure about 50,000 people to the Georgia World Congress Center next week.
"We're just trying to avert disaster,'' he said of the three-day event that is billed as the largest collection of working religious people in U.S. history.
Some problems - such as how to provide speedy laundry service for hundreds of diaper-clad infants in the makeshift child care center - have been solved at the last minute. Others, such as the bathroom shortage, have not.
But Hedquist is unruffled. "I'm going to put the whole thing in his hands," he said with a skyward glance.
Planning for the annual gathering began last summer, when local and national Southern Baptist leaders set up committees to handle everything from publicity to security. Then they began recruiting more than 2,500 volunteers.
About 700 of those workers will do nothing but usher people through the vast complex. Getting everyone to the meeting halls in the morning should take two hours because of the inevitable bottleneck at the escalators.
"People have a tendency to stop and talk when they get to the bottom," said Dillard Wilbanks, chairman of the ushers committee. "We'll be constantly encouraging them to move along."
Planners predict the escalators will cause yet another problem -sprained ankles and other accidental injuries. But the convention's medical team is prepared for that and for more serious medical problems.
"We'll have almost a mini-hospital there," said Bob Wolf, an administrator with the Georgia Baptist Medical Center who predicts that a handful of people may have heart attacks.
Eight doctors and up to eight registered nurses will be on duty during the convention, ready to speed to the stricken aboard golf carts equipped with stretchers.
Two rooms have been reserved to house hospital beds, and a helicopter will be on standby outside the main meeting hall to whisk the sick to the medical center.
"We need the helicopter because we're going to congest the city streets something unreal," Hedquist said of the traffic jams foreseen as tens of thousands of people - most of them strangers to Atlanta - try to drive to the convention center at the same time.
Traffic problems were so great at the convention in Dallas last year that the mayor sent out a plea over the airwaves asking all non-Baptists to stay home from work until the afternoon.
To alleviate the problem, the transportation committee has chartered 40 MARTA buses to carry people back and forth between hotels and the convention hall.
More than 200 of the convention-goers will be toddlers, so the planners have arranged for the entire third floor of the east wing to be converted into a preschool.
"But we've run into a few things we weren't quite expecting," said Tommy Gilmore, chairman of the child-care committee. "For instance, what to do with all the laundry that's going to be stacking up."
The convention center provides no laundry service to handle the bundles of diapers, bed sheets and towels that will be needed to run a clean preschool, he said, and commercial launderers don't provide the necessary three-times-a-day service.
"So we found two volunteers," he said. "They will get a van, pick up the laundry, take it to the cleaners and bring it back to the convention center. And they will do this several times each day."
Security is another concern, so organizers have hired at least 50 plainclothes and uniformed guards to assist in emergency medical situations and to protect the masses from miscreants.
"Theoretically this is a religious meeting, and we're not going to shoot each other," Hedquist said. But he recalled a convention in California where guards had to escort two heavily armed intruders out of the meeting hall. "They were just kooks, and I don't think they would have hurt anyone," he said.
But he warned that would-be troublemakers would be dealt with firmly. "The guards we have are not Baptists; they're goon squads," he said.
One problem has eluded solutions throughout the planning process -the shortage of bathrooms.
"The Congress Center wasn't designed for 50,000 people getting out of a session at one time, and half of them running for the bathroom," said Ray Johnson, who oversees the planning committees.
Added Hedquist, "It's just a problem. Some people will stand in line all day."