Typically, when I go to a political science conference, I stay out too late. Last night, though, I said goodnight to my friends a little after 10:30pm and was in bed in my hotel room in DC around 11pm.
And then all hell broke loose.
The fire alarms started blaring at 1am. I got dressed quickly, grabbed my phone, and headed out the door without even tying my shoes. Normally, I’d take an extra minute or two, but I heard people in the hall and children crying.
By the time, we filed down the hall to the stairwell, I could smell smoke. By the time we got outside, there were at least six firetrucks and ambulances. My friend Dennis and I got in touch with one another and met up in front of the hotel to watch what we both initially assumed was a drill but clearly was not.
Hoses were attached, firefighters went into and out of the building, we sat or wandered around the hotel grounds for a couple of hours, catching up with friends, colleagues, and former professors. At around 3:30am, we were allowed back into the hotel lobby and sheets were handed out in case people wanted to settle into an uncomfortable attempt at sleep while police, police dogs, and firefighters roamed the halls and stairwells. Hotel staff were running around endlessly.
Around 4:30am, fire alarms started going off again in a different part of the hotel. At this point, police mentioned to people who inquired that the hotel was being treated as “an active crime scene” and that multiple fires had been started on different floors.
Not long thereafter, we were all herded into the main ballroom and subjected to a series of bizarre announcements. If you had medicine in your room or had an early flight to catch, you could be escorted to your room to collect your things by police and then either leave the building or return to the ballroom. If you wanted to simply leave the building, you could do so but you couldn’t return until an unspecified time. If you wanted to go to the bathroom, you were asked to stand in one corner of the room until a police officer could escort you to the bathroom.
At some point, someone put a music video up on a big screen at the same time that people were settling down onto the floor to sleep and coffee was being served.
The American Political Science Association sent out a tweet and then an email to say that panel sessions would be canceled until noon. No further information was provided, but someone began to call names from the list of people who needed to leave for the airport or to get medication.
Around 6am, we were told that it would take a few hours but we would all be allowed to collect our things from our rooms and the hotel would be shut down.
Less than 45 minutes later, we were instead given the all-clear to return to our rooms and go about our day as normal but to keep an eye out for — and report — anything suspicious since they didn’t catch the person who set the fires.
Basically, everyone’s completely exhausted, everything reeks of smoke, and the conference organizers just emailed us to let us know that things will go ahead as planned beginning at 9:30am. This conference is totally cursed.
I should have stayed home.