Nick Mulcahy

March 10, 2013

The Society of Surgical Oncology (SSO) 66th Annual Cancer Symposium was repeatedly interrupted on Friday by local power outages related to the after-effects of stormy and windy weather in suburban Washington, DC.

The chaos of interruptions, in which meeting rooms went dark before emergency generators kicked in, culminated when the fire alarm at the Gaylord National Hotel, where the meeting was being held, erroneously went off at about 3:10 PM.

The Gaylord National Hotel is located on the banks of the Potomac River, just north of the nation's capital in Maryland, an area that experienced high winds, rain, and downed trees late in the week.

Hundreds of the 1500 meeting attendees filed out of the building, but quickly returned when hotel officials announced it was a false alarm.

Meeting presenters improvised throughout the day as power went off and on.

In the middle of her headlining basic science lecture sponsored by the American Cancer Society and the SSO, Lisa Coussens, PhD, lost her microphone power as the lights went out around 1:30 PM.

Dr. Coussens, from the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, paused while the backup generator system lit the room. Without microphone power, she shouted to the audience about reprogramming immune microenvironments in solid tumors to enhance therapy.

"She continued to give her talk in a loud, almost screaming voice to the large ballroom — without slides," Samuel Bieligk, MD, told Medscape Medical News. Dr. Bieligk, from the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa Oklahoma, attended the lecture.

When attendees returned to their lecture rooms following the fire drill at around 3:15 PM, they discovered that the full power was back at the hotel. Generators had been sustaining the hotel for the previous hour or so, and now lecturers once again had the ability to use their slides.

At a session on the surgical oncology workforce of the future in the United States, Karyn Stitzenberg, MD, MPH, finally got to show her audience some unique maps of the United States depicting densities of practicing surgical oncologists.

Then, the convention public-address system went on again, sounding out 3 deep and unusual tones. "There's a flood!" yelled an audience member. The room erupted in laughter. Dr. Stitzenberg, who is from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, paused and went on with her lecture on the surgical oncology workforce.