EVENTS

How do you know if a concert venue is safe?

Warehouse had only two exits, no sprinkler system

 

The deaths of at least 36 concertgoers in an Oakland warehouse inferno last Friday have many wondering if there is any way to know if a concert venue – especially a non-traditional space -- is safe.

Paul Wertheimer, head of Los Angeles' Crowd Management Strategies, said no one can ever really know for sure.

“We assume venues are safe,” Wertheimer told FOX411. “We find out too late they are not… There are too often few and fleeting options of escape. Getting on your knees and heading for the exit -- if there is one visible and unlocked --  is good advice for the first 10 people. After that, survivability diminishes.”

Officials said the Ghost Ship Warehouse had no fire sprinklers or smoke detectors and the only way out was on the first floor through a dark, rickety stairway.

Wertheimer said concerts like the one at the Ghost Ship are illegal and leave no room for safety.

“They are not safe in any way,” he said. “Unsafe venue, no crowd management plan, no emergency plan, no trained crowd managers, no capacity limitation.”

Steve Adelman, Vice President of the Event Safety Alliance, said people need to be as aware as they possibly can when they go to any sort of entertainment space. 

“The thing that people should look for when they go into any live event space … is clearly marked exits over a door which is accessible to them,” he explained. “Anybody at this point knows what an exit sign is supposed to look like…that is not a hard thing to ask people to look for. That exit sign has to be over a door which is accessible to them.”

But most people do not necessarily asses the risks a venue might have before going, and evacuation plans are not something that crosses their mind until there is an emergency.

“The whole idea of going to a show, a club, or sporting event it’s a place where other people have already taken care of safety measures,” Adelman said. “I think most of the time when someone goes out for entertainment purposes, they are kind of suspending their disbelief about the need to protect themselves because they trust someone already looked into this.”

The Ghost Ship warehouse manager Derick Ion Almena apologized for the tragedy on “Today” Tuesday morning.

“It’s not a good morning. What am I doing here? Can I just say I’m sorry?” he said. “The only reason why I’m here is to put my face and my body here in front. Am I the man who should be held accountable? Did I build something … I mean what am I going to say to that? Should I be held accountable? I can barely stand here right now.”

Wertheimer said the real problem is deficiencies in crowd safety laws.

“The scandal is a lack of comprehensive crowd safety laws and the failure of public officials to enforce those that exist,” he said. “The other problem is compliance...The first responders did a heroic job in Oakland.  But, what about the fire inspectors, police and city that could have prevented---or attempted to prevent this known illegal situation?”

Earlier this week, the Los Angeles County Fire Department issued tips for what you should do before enterting an entertainment venue.

1. Take a good look around at the condition of the building.

2. Have a communication plan and plan a meeting place.  

3. When you enter the building locate exits immediately and check for clear exit paths.

4. If there is an emergency, react immediately, get out and stay out.

A refrigerator may have been the cause of the Oakland warehouse inferno. Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern said a person who escaped the deadly blaze told authorities there were flames coming from the refrigerator, and evidence found at the scene so far supports the claim.

The building’s structure and safety have reportedly been on city officials’ radar for some time and questions have emerged about whether more could have been done to prevent the fire.

Oakland planning officials opened an investigation last month after repeated complaints about the warehouse. An inspector who went to the premises couldn't get inside, said Darin Ranelletti of the Oakland Planning Department.

Once the building is cleared, the investigation will turn to the cause of the fire. The district attorney warned of possible murder charges as she determines whether there were any crimes linked to the blaze.

The Ghost Ship fire is just the latest fire-related concert tragedy. In 2003, there was a fire caused by pyrotechnics at the Station Nightclub in Rhode Island, killing 100 people. In 2013, there was a nightclub fire in Brazil that left 238 people dead. 

The AP contributed to this report.

You can follow Blanche Johnson on Twitter @blancheFOXLA.

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