Monday, January 28, 2013

Nightclubs: Others' Crises Can Be Lifesaving Lessons for the Rest of Us

As long as you go to the trouble of having a crisis, you might as well learn something from it. If it's someone else's crisis, you better learn from it so you won't have to live it. That's why I write this blog: so we can learn together from the good, the bad, and the tragic of real-life crisis communications.

Some people learn from others' misfortunes; others remain in denial. Among the latest examples of turning one's back on others' tragedies is the Kiss nightclub fire in Santa Maria in southern Brazil early yesterday. As you know, 231 people died of smoke inhalation and stampeding. Security for a time wasn't allowing people out for fear patrons were leaving their bar tabs unpaid. Firefighters had trouble entering the building because of all the bodies piled in the doorway, so close to escaping. About 100 others were injured.

Four people have been arrested, or actually detained at this point. Two are club owners, and the other two are members of the band that was setting off a pyrotechnic show, perhaps the cause of the fire. "The detainees will be held initially for five days while authorities investigate Sunday's blaze in the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria, according to Marcos Viana, a police official who spoke with state-run Agencia Brasil. The five-day period can be extended for five more days, the news agency said."  (

Could this tragic crisis have been prevented by studying the past? "About 2,000 people were inside the club when the fire broke out -- double the maximum capacity of 1,000, said Guido de Melo, a state fire official. ( There was one way in and one way out. How long do you suppose it would take to evacuate 2,000 through one door?

Similar errors have brought tragic consequences, if only the Kiss owners had paid attention to the risks and calculated the severe consequences. For example:

  • Perm, Russia — December 2009: Indoor fireworks at the Lame Horse Nightclub ignited a plastic ceiling; 152 died.

  • Buenos Aires, Argentina — December 2004: A flare set off by a concertgoer sparked the ceiling foam at an overcrowded nightclub; 194 died. The club owner was among several sentenced to prison time.

  • West Warwick, Rhode Island — February 2003: Pyrotechnics set off during a performance by the well-known band Great White at The Station nightclub ignited the foam sound-proofing in walls and the ceiling; 100 died.

  • Caracas, Venezuela — December 2002: A basement fire started in the overcrowded La Goajira nightclub with 400 people packed inside; 47 died. The cause was never positively determined, but investigators believed it may have started due to an electrical fault.

  • Southgate, Kentucky — May 1977: The Beverly Hills Supper Club was not equipped with an automatic sprinkler system when a fire broke out; 165 died. Investigators blamed the fire on problems with the aluminum wiring.

  • Boston, Massachusetts — November 1942: One of the deadliest dance-hall fires in U.S. history was at the Coconut Grove, which was over capacity by 32 people; 492 died. The cause of the fire remains unknown. (

  • So you see, there's a long history of nightclub fires around the world. Whatever your business, study where your vulnerabilities may be. Then fix them. You don't want to be the next Kiss nightclub, the next Aurora Century movie theater, or the next Boy Scouts sex scandal.

    Study the past, learn, change as necessary.

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