The tragedy this past weekend at Brazil’s Kiss nightclub is just one incident in a history of nightclub disasters spanning back as far as the 1920s. In the past 13 years there have been a string of 10 notable nightclub fires around the world; from a December 2000 blaze in a dance hall in Luoyang, China which killed 309 people, to the 2003 Rhode Island Station nightclub fire that killed 194; and most recently the Kiss nightclub fire in Brazil which killed over 200.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there were almost 5,000 venue fires from 2000 to 2004, with an average of one death and 52 injuries per incident. While most venue managers understand how to prepare and hopefully prevent the injury and risks associated with crowds, dark interiors, staging, and pyrotechnics – these tragedies must be acknowledged, examined, and where possible, steps must be taken to avoid future incidents.
IAVM’s mission is to educate venue managers and their staff on the best practices for crowd management and venue safety and preparedness. The Association recently held its annual International Crowd Management Conference in Phoenix featuring the Guest Services Professional (GSP) curriculum, and is preparing for the Academy for Venue Safety & Security, February 17-22 in Dallas. While many of the above fatal fires occurred at nightclubs they serve as a stark reminder that venues must remain diligent in order to ensure that patrons, visitors, and employees are safe. Bad things can and do happen!
Most venues are compliant with fire codes in their area, but there are still things venue managers can do to further ensure our guests get out alive if a fire or other threat takes place inside a venue.
Staff training is a key to a safe and quick evacuation or emergency response. Visitors will look to event staff for guidance in an emergency. Venue staff needs to regularly practice their part in evacuation or emergency response processes. Make certain new employees learn their role in emergency situations. Communicate procedures to all staff including: food service personnel, performers and crews, contract, and other vendor staff not directly involved in emergency preparedness. NFPA’s Life Safety Code 101 requires one “Trained Crowd Manager” per 250 occupants. IAVM offers an on-line training class to meet this requirement.
Staff needs to be clearly visible to the guests and mindful of occupancy limits. In Rhode Island at the Station nightclub, 462 people were inside with a posted capacity of 404. The Kiss nightclub fire in Brazil was reported to be over capacity by almost 1,000 people by the time the fire erupted.
Staff should have access to flashlights or other evacuation aids. Many venues, as well as movie theaters, are now incorporating a short safety video/PSA message to patrons before the show begins.
Do you check your exits routinely and before each event? Make certain hallways and exits are clear of boxes, crates, and other items that can impact the flow of an exit. Many fatalities occur at crowded or blocked exits.
Be diligent in checking with the band’s or performer’s crew if pyrotechnics are planned. Make sure the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) reviews and approves the set-up. Get the performer’s set sheet and see what they have planned when, so your staff can be prepared if something is not happening as planned.
It only takes a few minutes to become a victim in a crowded venue. It doesn’t have to be a fire. Venue emergencies including active shooter situations, unruly crowds, and terroristic threats that can cause panic and create dangerous situations.
It is up to the venue’s front-line personnel to ensure a quick evacuation of the venue. It is venue management’s responsibility to train front-line or event staff. Most emergencies don’t last more than a few minutes, so the ability to respond appropriately and immediately is critical. Don’t become complacent. Be proactive and prepared. If you want to learn more, IAVM’s Academy for Venue Safety & Security is one of the best programs to make sure your venue is prepared. Registration for AVSS is still open for the February 17-22 program.