The tragic nightclub fire in Providence, R.I. has put a spotlight on the safety of so-called "soundproofing foams". For years, we have been warning our clients that some of these foams produce toxic smoke and they should not be used in these types of applications.
Music stores, mail-order catalogs and the Internet are full of so-called "experts" who happen to sell these products, and want you to think that you can just buy their over-priced miracle products and solve your problem. For years, we have been warning that many of these firms, though they may pass themselves off as consultants, know nothing about your specific acoustic needs, and are only interested in quick profits. Some offer on-line "consulting" to convince you to buy their products. .
There is a great deal of misinformation about these materials. To start with, they are very ineffective for soundproofing. That is, they do not help to stop the transmission of sound through a wall.
They will have an effect on the interior acoustics of a club, making it less reverberant, or "deader" at certain frequencies. But they are typically used in a haphazard, unscientific way that produces poor results. The way to do it right requires a test of the room's octave-band reverberation time and calculations. We don't see this being done over the Internet!
Most importantly, there are many grades of materials that look almost the same but differ greatly in fire safety performance. Much of the "eggcrate" foam we see is not rated for fire safety at all. It is meant for use as padding in cases for cameras and the like. This type can burn quickly and produce toxic fumes as shown in the photo. In addition, the material melts as it burns, dripping sticky, flaming drops that can land on people or set fire to other flammable objects. You can see this effect in the photo as well.
There are other types of foam that are treated for fire retardance, but we don't recommend those in our work either. In tests we did on fire-treated foam, the material did burn and produce smoke, although not as much as some other "convoluted" foam. We prefer to specify other materials to do the job well and protect your customers, your employees and your business.
If you think you might already have some of these materials, call us right away. We can evaluate what you have and recommend safer products that can be more effective as well. The way materials are installed is crucial to how they will solve your sound problem.
You might wish to consider Acoustilog's 5 D's of Nightlife Safety.
Deaf- Aside from the sheer lunacy of going to an ear-destroying nightclub, there's another point to consider. Being able to hear shouted warnings might give you a good warning to leave. Also, if employees have trouble hearing each other, necessary procedures may not be communicated. If you have to shout to be heard, that is too loud in our opinion. Good club sound system acoustics allow a big powerful sound to be felt in your body but not punish your ears.
Drunk- It doesn't take a fire to cause a dangerous stampede. Sometimes rowdy patrons can cause a a ruckus that can turn into a major disturbance. Overzealous employees might block exits with storage items. Try to be mindful of situations like these.
Dark- Are the exits lit well enough? Are the illuminated exit signs easy to see, or are the decorative lights on the ceiling washing them out? Can you see the edge of any stairs you have to use?
Danger - There are other dangerous situations to be alert for. Get the big picture. Large areas of bumpy foam rubber, such as ceilings, were probably not treated by a professional acoustic consultant. Of course, these places won't have the best sound, but the foam can be a smoke and flame spreader in a fire. Are there pyrotechnics being used?
Department - If a club is licensed by a local watchdog agency, such as New York City's Department of Consumer Affairs, you know they had to be inspected and had to pass by numerous professionals. There are so many places you can go to have a good time that you don't have to settle for an unlicensed, possibly dangerous nightclub. Most businesses want their customers to be safe and to feel comfortable, and they go to great lengths to ensure that, but the laws help to close down the dangerous firetraps.
These are by no means the only things to look for: much more information is available about protecting yourself in public places online.