Understanding Basics of Haunted Houses (Special Amusement Buildings)
As the Halloween season goes into full swing in the United States its a great time to review some of the many code requirements for these special buildings. These buildings are typically known as special amusement buildings that are inherently confusing. This adds to the entertainment of the venue while adding challenges on meeting the fire and building codes. The occupants of the buildings are typically not familiar with the space so extra attention to the specific provisions of the code and training of staff is critical.
There have been multiple fatal fires (Six Flags, 1984; Washington Reid School PTA haunted house 1973) which have lead to the development of codes and standards for the use. Halloween has become a very active time of year which groups try to out do other haunted houses without an emphasis on fire and life safety.
This video shows the “cutting edge” winning the world record for longest haunted house. The video highlights some of the challenges with fire protection in similar structures, and why the training of staff with automatic systems is critical:
Codes and Standards
There are many resources available for the inspector on the special amusement buildings. The adopted code for the jurisdiction will provide the specific code requirements. Here is a sample of the some of the basic code provisions for special amusement buildings:
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101, The Life Safety Code, 2009 edition provides code provisions to these specific occupancies as special amusement buildings. The specific code sections can be found in section 12.4.7
General. Special amusement buildings, regardless of occupant load, shall meet the requirements for assembly occupancies in addition to the requirements of 12.4.7, unless the special amusement building is a multilevel play structure that is not more than 10 ft in height and has aggregate horizontal projections not exceeding 160 ft.
The International Code Council identifies special amusement buildings in two areas. Based on the 2009 ICC code series the IBC provides provisions in section 411
Special amusement buildings having an occupant load of 50 or more shall comply with the requirements for the appropriate Group A occupancy and this section. Amusement buildings having an occupant load of less than 50 shall comply with the requirements for a Group B occupancy and this section.
Exception: Amusement buildings or portions thereof that are without walls or a roof and constructed to prevent the accumulation of smoke.
When this section is applicable strict provisions are in place for an automatic fire sprinkler system, voice evacuation system, egress marking, and specific requirements for the interior finish of the space.
The International Fire Code will require an operational permit (section 105.6.2) and has requirements on sprinkler, alarm, egress and interior finish that correlate with the International Building Code
- Haunted Houses and the Fire Marshal by Jim Williams, Fire Marshal
- NFPA Journal, Haunted Houses and the Life Safety Code
- Indiana Department of Homeland Security, Haunted Houses
- Tips for Haunted Houses, South Carolina Fire Marshals Office
- Roseville, CA Permit Application for Haunted Houses
- Fairfax County, Halloween Party and Haunted Houses
- Safety and Haunted Houses, Haunted House Magazine