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How to stay safe in a night club

After the tragedy in Brazil where over 235 people died, it's time to take another look at club safety

Since over 235 people were tragically killed inside a night club in Southern Brazil last month, some believe there’s a need to not only reevaluate how safe night clubs are today, but also take a closer look at our own responsibilities to stay safe while clubbing.

To get some firsthand tips on how to do this, we contacted Tom Hayden, the supervisor of health and safety inspections at George Washington University in Washington D.C., who recently advised the school’s students on club safety.

He says one of the first things people should do upon entering a club is take note of the exits -- how many there are and where they’re exactly located.

“Look at your ways out and identify more than one,”   Hayden said in an interview with ConsumerAffairs. “Are they marked and visible? Do they appear accessible, meaning that they are not locked with chains or barred shut?"

Hayden also says you should ask yourself other important questions when walking into a venue, which means the onus is really on you, the club-goer, to make sure you identify any hazards. Just assuming the club owners have already taken the correct safety measures is risky.

“How big is the crowd?” Hayden says you should ask yourself.

“Are you able to move freely from point to point or do you have to push your way through people to get from one part of the building to another?  Does the club have fire safety protection like sprinklers and visible strobe fire alarms? These should be easy to spot by looking at the ceiling or higher up on the walls,” he says.

Out for fun

But even with the recent club fires in past years, it’s safe to say that being vigilante in the area of safety isn’t at the forefront of the average club-goer's mind, since most people are just looking to get the most bang for their consumer buck when it comes to having fun and enjoying themselves, but that has to change, many experts say.

Hayden also said that consumers should take extra notice of clubs that are either above or below ground level, since these types of venues require stairs to enter and exit, and staircases always create the potential hazard of becoming jammed with people trying to escape an emergency.  

“People tend to go out the way that they came in,” he says. "This is especially true in an emergency or when you are not familiar with the lay out of the building.

"Stairways up or down can quickly become chocked with people trying to get out in an emergency and quickly become impassable. A fire on a different level may not be noticed right away and heat and smoke can travel in the stairway if it’s not properly protected by fire doors.”

“Another issue is whether or not the stairways are wide enough to accommodate the number of people trying to use them," adds Hayden. 

"Most modern licensed clubs here in the United States will have had all these factors evaluated during the inspection process to determine what the occupancy level (the number of people permitted) should be. However, that may not be the case in some older building or if you are traveling overseas,” he says.

As many recall, 100 people were killed inside a nightclub called "The Station" in 2003, after the tour manager for the rock band Great White lit the foam on the stage that's used for sound insulation. It only took five  minutes for the entire venue to be totally engulfed, reports show.

In 2000, 309 people lost their lives in Luoyang, China after a fire broke out inside a club, and in 1990, 87 people died in a Bronx, NY., club fire that was actually set intentionally, which shows club fires can start in a number of ways, so one has to be prepared.

Act fast

Hayden says if you do find yourself in this type of situation, you shouldn’t try to assess things, you should escape instantly.

“Get out immediately,” he emphasized. “I can’t overstress this enough. It may sound callous, but don’t try to find your friends while you are still inside. Head to the nearest exit and keep in mind that it may not be the same one you entered through.”

“If you look at several of the recent events including Brazil and Rhode Island, delays by the occupants in leaving may have cost some their lives. They may not have been aware of the seriousness of the event or may have originally thought that it was part of the performance. Unfortunately, by the time they were able to react it was too late.”

Also, club-goers should never be hesitant to bring up a safety hazard if they happen to notice something looks off, says Hayden.

“Ask to speak with the manager,” he says.

“Most reputable establishments are vested in your safety and want you to feel comfortable at the location. If you’re not satisfied with the managers response but unsure if the issue is really a hazard, position yourself close to an exit that you can get to if anything does happen.”

Also, “Check the ceiling for a sprinkler system. Some code requirements are loosened if the building is equipped with a sprinkler system because fire officials recognize their effectiveness in keeping people safe and saving lives.

“You can always report your concerns to the local fire marshal’s office. They have staff specially trained to look at all of these factors and determine if a club is safe. They also have the authority to shut down clubs that are unsafe until the problems are corrected,” he explains.

And what's the golden rule when it comes to keeping safe in a club? There are two, says Hayden.

“Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t,” and also, “Be aware."

Take a minute when you arrive and look around. Identify the ways out and evaluate the overall situation.

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