Q: In the past five years, there have been fewer club disasters such as those in Rhode Island and Chicago that made headlines some years back. Is this just coincidence? Have states tightened up regulations or are club operators more vigilant?
A: It might seem that all is well and that operators have added the necessary safety measures, therefore preventing another deadly tragedy. Not true. In fact, change across the country and in our industry is moving at a snail’s pace.
There was increased enforcement around the country in the months following February 2003, when 121 people died in two nightclub incidents (see below). But overall, manpower and budget issues have prevented any local or state governments from creating a real team of officials who constantly monitor the hundreds of thousands of alcohol-serving entertainment venues nationwide on a continuing basis.
This is further compounded by the fact that if operators really want to create a safer environment, they will have to spend a fairly large amount of money on sprinklers (new or upgraded), proper exits, proper lighting, proper storage and so on.
Each year, I visit more than 200 nightclubs, bars and other liquor licensed venues around the country. The number one preventable dangerous issue I see, time after time, involves over-capacity. Operators are gambling that when they exceed capacity, they won’t have a problem that triggers a fire, a stampede or riot. This gamble could cost lives.
Finally, many in our industry have heard of the fire at West Warwick, R.I.’s The Station, which led to 100 people dying, or the stampede in Chicago’s E2 Nightclub, which killed 21 people. But many people have no idea what led to all those people perishing in February 2003. Our industry has been lucky to not have another deadly tragedy at some venue in the United States. When we do, we will again get serious — at least for a while.
Robert C. Smith, President, Nightclub Security Consultants