Staying connected at General Conference
The 2012 General Conference saw the technology team from United Methodist Communications laying 3000+ feet of wire to create a communications network for the event in only three days.
Not so in 2016. Most everything's wireless this year. But if you think the pressure's off, then think again. This whole event relies on technology.
Picture this. Thousands of delegates, guest, staff, media, most with one, two, three, even more devices. Checking email, making phone calls, downloading documents, using the Internet, texting. Different frequencies, different carriers. Compound the difficulty factor by piggybacking electronic voting, a speaker queuing system, interpreter radio systems, and a translation app.
"We're coordinating a massive logistical effort around invisible air waves," said Danny Mai, chief technology officer of United Methodist Communications. “The biggest task is coordinating all the vendors and various onsite technologies around wireless communications and making sure we do not have conflict with the equipment that will be used for the business of General Conference, and have minimal impact on the wireless devices of the delegates and guests of the conference. Another big item is making sure the official site of the General Conference, UMC.org, can handle the traffic.”
"We take over every meeting space in the entire convention center," said Dean West, who is responsible for infrastructure support for the event. "We estimate there will be 4,000-5,000 wireless connected devices with 1,500-2,500 concurrent connections. And today's smartphones are never idle, with apps always running in the background."
"The technology team builds up a 200+ device business network within 72 hours, runs it for two weeks and tears it down within 12-24 hours," said Mai, an accomplished pro who's already chalked up four General Conferences coordinating technology services for the denomination's communication agency as well as handling on-site needs. "We'll be manning three helpdesk locations at the Convention Center to make sure all goes smoothly for participants, as well as supporting conference and agency staff."
But what happens in Portland is just the tail end of a march that's been going on for two years. Preparing the infrastructure for the website, legislative petition tracking system, and live streaming; working on the General Conference mobile app; developing a social media tagboard; setting up tablets for Central Conference delegates and providing training ... the list goes on.
In fact, the team is not only already planning ahead for Minneapolis in 2020, but thinking forward to Manila and Harare.
"We are traveling light this year, as we practice how to pare down for future General Conferences," said Mai. "We're trying to be a lot more portable."
*Diane Degnan is Director of Public Relations at United Methodist Communications. For more information, email presscenter@UMCom.org.