Safety requirements for walk-through and dark attractions in the United States
by Bruce Perelman
Traveling carnivals and amusement parks worldwide often feature “walk-through” attractions such as fun houses, mirror mazes or glass houses, and haunted houses as well as dark rides or ghost trains. In the United States these types of attractions have special safety requirements beyond those of other mechanical rides and attractions.
After a particularly tragic and disastrous file in a haunted house type attraction at a New Jersey amusement park that resulted in the deaths of eight teenagers in 1984, provisions were added to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Life Safety Code 101 for “special amusement buildings.” The NFPA, which also publishes the National Electric Code, is a private organization that publishes codes and standards for use and adoption by various levels of government. It is important to note that while NFPA standards do not have the force of law unless adopted by the local authority having jurisdiction, many states and cities in the United States have adopted the NFPA Life Safety Code standards. More information on the NFPA and the Life Safety Code may be found at www.nfpa.org.
NFPA special amusement buildings can be temporary, permanent, or mobile, and have either a device or system that moves people or provides a path around, along, or over a course where an exit is not readily apparent or an exit path is intentionally confounded for purposes of amusement. Examples include the attractions listed above as well as a roller coaster or multi-level play structures inside a building, submarine rides, and other attractions where the occupants are not in the open air.
The NFPA requirements for special amusement buildings are contained in the NFPA Life Safety Code 101 §12.4.8. The most important requirements are:
1. Emergency lighting:All such attractions should be equipped with approved emergency lighting that adequately illuminates the entire exit pathway. The emergency lights must activate upon power failure or activation of either the smoke detection or sprinkler systems described below. If the attraction is a maze or other attraction such as a ghost train or dark walk-through, exit markings that become apparent in an emergency should also be provided. In a ghost train, power to the track or vehicles should not be re-energized automatically when power to the attraction is restored.
2. Exit signage/doors:All such attractions must have both approved exit signs of luminescent, self-luminous, or electro-luminescent type and low-level exit signs for increased visibility during a fire. “Glow-in-the-dark” self-adhesive directional exit signs make excellent low-level exit signage. Adequate emergency doors must be properly identified, be readily operable even in darkness, swing in the direction of travel, and open to a clear area free of hazards. Adequate landings, steps, and railings must be provided if the door is above ground level. Doors must be unlocked during all operating hours.
3. Interior finish:All interior finishes, decorations, and components must be of low combustibility (NFPA Class A). Textile materials with napped, tufted, looped, woven, or similar surfaces, and cellular or foamed plastic materials are specifically prohibited.
4. Smoke detectors:Adequately spaced approved smoke detectors should be provided. An alarm at any detector should sound an appropriate visible and audible alarm at a constantly attended location, stop all normal, conflicting, and confusing sounds and visual effects associated with the attraction, and activate the emergency lighting system. Notifications to occupants must include visible signals and voice announcements. In a ghost train, power supply to the track and effects should also be interrupted.
5. Sprinkler system: Structures built or extensively remodeled after February 2, 1988 are also required to have a sprinkler system designed and installed to NFPA standards. Activation of the sprinkler system should cause the same actions as the activation of a smoke detector as described above, usually through the use of a paddle or flow sensor in the sprinkler supply line. Water supply for a mobile or portable attraction is either through temporary hook-up to city supply or through the use of storage tanks. The tanks may be pressurized with compressed air (with appropriate sensors for water level and pressure) or supply water with a separately powered pump system.
6. Evacuation plan:All attractions should have an evacuation plan that is both accessible and discussed with attendants. This is particularly important for dark attractions and mazes. The plan should ensure all patrons, operators, and attendants have exited the attraction.
7. No flammable or combustible material storage:No combustible material or flammable products should be stored in such structures. “No Smoking” signs should be provided and enforced at structure entrances.
This is only a summary of the NFPA requirements for special amusement buildings and is not intended to be a complete list of NFPA requirements or NFPA applicability to any particular attraction. Most of the requirements are easily met and are designed to prevent the tragic loss of life that occurred in 1984. It is our responsibility as inspectors, owners, and operators of these kinds of attractions to keep our guests safe from harm. Let’s agree that no one be injured on our watch.
Written by Mr. Bruce Perelman (USA) firstname.lastname@example.org
Article originally published in Games Industry (Italy) magazine
Original date: June 2017
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