SQL Saturday #132 – Pensacola 2012

This past Saturday was the first time I’ve organized a SQL Saturday, and it spawned a number of other firsts.  Each of them presented its own challenges and benefits, and while I was exhausted for days afterwards, I would not hesitate to repeat the experience.

Organizing the event involved coordinating venue, sponsors, food and drink supplies, volunteers, speakers, sessions, dinner parties, marketing and a plethora of other things.  The weeks leading up to the event were stressful enough, but then came Game Day – where failure is not an option.  This is where being a DBA comes in handy – a great DBA learns to be prepared for not just one, but multiple failures.  And boy did we have a challenging day.

The pre-con went smoothly – so well that I actually got overconfident for Saturday.  Karma had plans to humble me.  Note that just a few days prior, the weather reports predicted a completely sunny day, and 20% chance of rain on Saturday.  Friday night, halfway through our speaker dinner, rain and wind came out of nowhere and forced everyone inside.  I’m told the food was great, though I was late due to setting up tables after the pre-con – just in case something happened on Saturday, I didn’t want the sponsors to be waiting on something as simple as tables.

Flooding in Pensacola - source: al.com

Saturday morning, Dunkin Donuts didn’t even know about our coffee order.  Or donuts.  For 200 people.  Have you ever seen 200 geeks without coffee… and donuts?  That’s a red alert if I’ve ever heard of one.  So after I made it clear on the phone that someone on their side dropped the ball, I drove over and they only had half the coffee we ordered… because they ran out of coffee totes.  And it started raining – not so great for donuts.  Victor Rojas, on the user group board and a great volunteer, helped me load up the truck, and we were soaked before even leaving.  We brought back our partial order just 20 minutes late, and within minutes had Panera able to fill in the gaps just in time for the 10am official coffee break – we were about 10 minutes late, but I was told by an authoritative source that almost nobody noticed – and I was paid a huge compliment for handling it smoothly.

Around 11am we noticed that not only had the rain not let up, it was pouring off the roof like Niagara Falls… [ Video – Rain in the courtyard (video by Jeannie Holmes) ] and we had started to see leaks inside.  The courtyard drain wasn’t doing much, and the parking lot had water up to the floorboards of some cars.  We also heard that a manhole cover blew up at 9th and Airport, sending debris everywhere – and the intersection itself was 2-3 feet deep in water.  The Cordova Mall parking lot had some cars submerged halfway to completely.  Right around then we get a call that the auditorium is flooding – right where the speaker is standing near electrical equipment.  So, we evac the auditorium and send everyone to another room.  It ended up being a good thing that we reserved 8 rooms for 6 tracks, because the speakers needed one and we lost one due to flooding.  With a new room came an equipment challenge – video cable is too short.  Fortunately, Sven Aelterman had an extension he was kind enough to loan to the room for the day.  Again, redundancy pays off.

But life would throw us a new challenge: it was now lunch time, and we’re surrounded by a 3 foot moat.  Assuming Lenny’s Subs’ driver could actually drive to the school, could we get the food in?  We didn’t have the option to fail.  We called up every available volunteer, and the driver eventually found her way to a spot where we could load up.  200 boxes of subs came in on a human conveyor belt, about 30 minutes late, but we managed to feed everyone and have leftovers.  That driver got a very good tip, and that Lenny’s Subs is officially on my High Trust List – the manager even called later to make sure everything was fine.

Courtyard Flooding - photo by Jeannie Holmes

At this point, if I were asked to organize a SQL Saturday, my response would have been, “Hell No – not even if you paid me.”  And then, just as I was about to Google plans for an ark, it mostly stopped raining.  Now I *know* nature is screwing with me.

The rest of the day went swimmingly (pun intended) by comparison, except for one item.  We called the after party venue to confirm, and they said while they were fine, they were an island in the middle of downtown Pensacola – roads around them were under several feet of water, and most of downtown was without power.  I can’t in good conscience send 200 people into that, so we decided to cancel the after party.  Attendees understood, but were understandably disappointed.  Hopefully the swag and door prizes eased their pain a bit.  There’s not much redundancy you can plan in a party for 100-200 people when the entire venue is unreachable.

After most everyone left, our volunteers worked hard to clean up and the only evidence of our presence was a large pile of trash bags.  That’s important if we want to be invited back next year – Pensacola State College has been very generous to host our monthly meetings and SQL Saturdays, and we want that to continue.

I have seen “SQL Family” in action – organizers and volunteers worked together to make sure the attendees, sponsors and speakers had a good show despite the apocalypse outside.  Somehow, it all worked – I received only compliments, no complaints – and that blew me away.  Even better, I was told that the leftover lunches we donated to homeless at the Waterfront Mission were especially appreciated, because their building was under 5 feet of water – and Victor went out of his way to find their new location.  Victor, you rock.

All said, if I were asked to host another SQL Saturday, my answer is “When and where?”


3 thoughts on “SQL Saturday #132 – Pensacola 2012

  1. You did do an amazing job with this event. I would be honored to be apart of it again. #sqlfamily took on a whole new life with this event. This is definitely a SQL Saturday for the books.

  2. It was the most memorable SQL Saturday I’ve ever been to. It was a great event. You guys did an awesome job!

    And I love that you posted this under “Disaster Recovery”. Very fitting.

  3. That is just about the most incredible story I’ve heard about a SQL Saturday. WOW! Well done.

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