The Booming Escape Room Industry
Escape rooms are quickly becoming a go-to activity for group entertainment and team-building events. The Economist reports that in 2014 there were 22 escape rooms throughout the United States. Today, there are over 2,300. The spike in popularity is astounding, but when a fire emergency arises, many escape rooms are not properly built for evacuation.
Can you evacuate an Escape Room?
Questions about the safety of escape rooms garnered the attention of their operators as well as the emergency preparation industry after five teenage girls died in an escape room fire on January 4, 2019. The very nature of this industry makes fire evacuation planning difficult compared to your typical school building, office, or manufacturing plant. It’s argued that illuminated exit signs and easy access to emergency exits ruin the aesthetic of the escape room experience. For operators, finding the balance between customer satisfaction and emergency preparedness is difficult.
In an article for the NFPA, Angelo Verzoni touches on the concerns over fire code compliance relating to escape rooms. Verzoni refers to a conversation with Gregory Harrington – the NFPA liaison for NFPA 101 Life Safety code.
“I’ve done [an escape room] once, and it’s kind of fun,” said Harrington. “But if they’re not done correctly, they can be dangerous. It’s a concern, and we need to get the word out to [authorities having jurisdiction] that they need to be cautious about how they’re permitting these things.”
Emergency Buttons Won’t Suffice!
Harrington and Verzoni talk about the dangers of emergency buttons that open escape room exits rather than having the opening mechanism on the door. Having a button off to the side that activates the exit door can be difficult to find in dark conditions. In fact, NFPA 101 code requires that door lock release mechanisms be on the door, not off to the side.
Among many other safety concerns, Verzoni talks about participants ability to egress the room layout. Moving large objects around an escape room without consideration for where the emergency exits are could be life-threatening Typically, escape rooms are monitored by camera through the entirety of the game, however, these employees are focused on the game progress.
Are You Prepared for an Evacuation Emergency?
The increasing popularity of escape rooms makes addressing these safety issues more important than ever. Yet, regardless of the industry you work in, safety and emergency preparation should always be the first priority.