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Staying Safe on the Party Scene

Regulations work behind the scenes to keep partygoers safe

By Eun J. Lee

features editor

No institution of higher education is an island. Except, perhaps, the University of Hawaii or Brown University.

Issues of safety at crowded social gatherings like clubs and parties have been in the headlines following a tragic fire that started from a pyrotechnic display in a Rhode Island nightclub and claimed the lives of almost a hundred people. Fire safety is of equal concern here at MIT.

Since the nightclub fire in Rhode Island, the Environmental Health and Safety Office has been reassessing MIT’s fire safety policies, particularly to check whether pyrotechnics are being used in stage productions or campus events.

“I’m happy to find out we’re not using them [in stage productions],” said Peter M. Bochnak, Safety Program Assistant Director of the Environmental Health and Safety office. “We’ve asked dorms [if they use pyrotechnics], but we haven’t heard back from them yet.”

Although pyrotechnics are not explicitly banned in fraternity houses, according to the Interfraternity Council’s Policy for Risk Management, “the possession and/or use or firearms or explosive devices of any kind within the confines and premises of the chapter house are forbidden.”

Dorms, frats track attendance

While all buildings on campus and MIT-affiliated residential houses like fraternities are required to be inspected for fire safety on a regular basis, regulation of student parties is less structured than large school-sponsored events on campus.

“As for how many people go to [student] events, we don’t get involved, but there are strict requirements,” Bochnak said. “My feeling is that it is the responsibility of the dorms involved with organizing the event to check [that they’re not over the maximum capacity].”

In the case of dormitories, there are limits on which rooms in the dorm can be used for functions such as parties, as well as maximum capacities for each room.

Residential graduate assistants, housemasters, and other dormitory staff also usually keep an eye out to make sure that no safety codes are violated.

Like dormitories, fraternities are responsible for ensuring the safety of their guests at large events, as are sororities and independent living groups.

Party regulations put safety first

“Safety of the guest is always the first priority of any event that we have,” said James R. Warren ’04, former rush chair of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.

All parties are required to have sign-in lists for guests. Door workers usually keep track of the people coming and the people leaving with clicker counters to make sure that the building is under its maximum capacity. The maximum capacity of each house is included on its dorm license, which is required to be posted near the door.

The maximum capacity of a fraternity house allowed by MIT and IFC regulations is intentionally lower than the maximum capacity listed on its dorm license as an extra safety precaution.

All houses are required to be inspected by city officials to ensure that they are in compliance with all fire and health safety codes. Fraternity house managers are also given check lists for safety code compliance.

“Each house also has a risk manager that should be making sure that they are in compliance with these codes throughout the year,” said IFC President Lawrence W. Colagiovanni ’04. “We are generally pretty pro-active about this.”

In addition to following IFC Community Relations By-Laws, all fraternity events must comply with MIT policy, Massachusetts State Law, and other pertinent rules and regulations.

On-campus events regulated

The Environmental Health and Safety office works closely with the Campus Activities Complex to ensure that events on campus are safe for guests. The exits in each building are checked on an annual basis by the Cambridge inspection services, and the Cambridge Fire Department checks exits and exit feeders in large venues such as Kresge Auditorium four times a year.

Anyone who suspect the threat of a fire safety violation should contact the MIT Police or the Environmental Health and Safety office immediately.