GSX 2021: Jump-Starting the Return to Normal

Last year, ASIS made the call to convert GSX 2020 into a virtual event against the backdrop of COVID-19. This year’s conference, then, marked the return of GSX as an in-person event. And given the strange limbo we find ourselves in with regard to the pandemic—it’s either ongoing, over, getting better, or getting worse, depending on who you ask—from a logistics standpoint, the tentative return to normalcy went off without a hitch.

ASIS took every possible precaution to keep attendees safe. We were required to either submit proof of vaccination in advance of the conference or to complete a daily health attestation upon arriving at the Orange County Convention Center. Booths were spaced farther apart; the aisles were wider. The show floor was subject to frequent cleaning. Floor signs helped direct traffic. And, of course, face masks were mandatory, regardless of vaccination status.

(While walking around on Day 2, I overheard a humorous conversation at one of the booths. The booth’s owner slid behind the table and collapsed into a chair, agitated. “I just got yelled at for not wearing a mask,” he growled to his colleague. “They told me to put it on for my own health and safety. I told ‘em no.” He flung his mask onto the table for emphasis. The booth was vacant the following morning.)

I explained last week that this was my first trade show, so I don’t have much of a basis for comparison. I’ve heard that attendance was smaller, that the event itself was scaled back, that lines were shorter, that the event was a shadow of its usual self. I did get a sense of that; after an overwhelming Monday and Tuesday, by mid-morning on Wednesday, there didn’t seem to be a lot left to see.

But all of those observations came from the attendance side. From the organizer’s standpoint – the logistics of gathering hundreds of vendors and thousands of people in a single room during the tail end of a global pandemic – I cannot think of a single thing that ASIS could have done differently to make it run more smoothly.

What happened was that the event was a little smaller and quieter than normal. What didn’t happen was a COVID outbreak. Or an emergency evacuation of the facility. Or a loud meltdown / confrontation regarding masks. Or, really, any pandemic-related disruptions whatsoever.

Event organizers, take note: If we consider GSX 2021 to be a trial run at resuming life as we once knew it, it could serve as a textbook model of how to throw a large-scale event in our current climate. And that by itself is no small feat.

About the Author

Matt Jones is senior editor of Spaces4Learning and Campus Security and Life Safety. He can be reached at

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