Many of us heard about the tragic fire at a Polish escape room last weekend in which 5 teenage girls were killed. Click here to read coverage in the NY Times. Of course, the owner of that facility did not intend for such to happen. But lax safety standards in the design and maintenance of the room clearly were causes.


This brings up the general topic of escape room safety. In light of what just happened, are these rooms safe? What must escape room designers do to make sure they don’t unintentionally endanger participants?


By far the most important issue relates to being locked in a room. At this facility in Poland, the girls were physically locked into a room from which they had 60 minutes to escape. Any escape room in which participants are physically restrained or locked in should have an emergency exit or override button that can open the door in case of a fire or any other similar emergency. I believe most (if not all?) escape rooms in the U.S. do. This is required by fire codes. But evidently this place in Poland did not.


You’re Not Locked In

That said, it’s important to emphasize that at Save Milwaukee escape rooms participants are never locked in. I made a decision at the very start not to do that. Safety was a main reason. So at Save Milwaukee Escape rooms should there be an emergency there is no need to find an emergency override button and worry about whether or not it will work. You were never locked in to begin with.


As an aside, there are other advantages to this decision. By not having escaping a locked room be the goal of every mission we have more room for creativity in coming up with scenarios and room design. Also, if someone has to use the bathroom during the mission, young children need to step out, or someone arrives late and needs to join in, none of that is a problem. But back to safety. . .


We do our best to make sure none of the props or furniture in the room presents a hazard. Realizing that participants are likely to scour everything thoroughly, we make sure nothing is sharp, nothing is likely to fall, and so on. Bookcases and other furniture located against the wall is secured so it cannot tip over. Anything electrical is kept in good condition and props that require electricity run on low dc voltage.


Other Hazards

That said, there are things participants should keep in mind to help maintain safety as well. Here are a few examples. At Save Milwaukee (and most other reputable escape rooms) electric outlets and anything else involving line current (such as lamps or lighting) are completely off limits. Yes, there are companies that manufacture fake electric outlets that would make great hiding places. But I specifically will not use them because I don’t want agents to poke into real, live electric outlets looking for clues!


Nothing will be hidden in a place that is dangerous to access. I would not have people climb on a rickety desk or table to stretch on tip toes to feel along the ceiling to retrieve a clue. If a place seems inaccessible or risky to access that’s a sign you shouldn’t. No prop will need to be damaged or used in a dangerous way in order to reveal its clue.


I’m sure everyone who runs an escape room feels horrible about what happened in Poland. By planning proactively for safety we can make sure this type of disaster isn’t repeated.


Owner, Save Milwaukee Escape Rooms