Harm Reduction for DIY Venues

(This is an archived snapshot from Dec.6 2016 of the public google doc at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1KPEURnlCPjedaSSPhpq6hvigkXbbXxDvv1gvrwRLrTQ/preview)




  • De-clutter your space and surrounding areas. Piles = fires and obstruction.
  • Clear obstructions to doorways. To ensure people can safely enter or exit a doorway, remove any objects or clutter that may prevent the door from opening fully. This should especially be checked during events when equipment may be temporarily placed in front of a door.
  • Prevent the public from entering off-limits areas by using signs, tape, and/or barricades, so these are not mistaken as exit paths or accessible space.
  • Do not allow large installations or dividers of fabric, paper, flammable wood, etc. unless the materials are known to be flame retardant and/or the space has working sprinklers.
  • Clear paths to exits. Mark and label building circulation with reflective tape or paint on the floor. Ideally, these paths should be at least 44" wide. Whenever possible, design your navigation so it's possible to get through the space while using a wheelchair.
  • Clearly mark all exit doors. Use glow in the dark, reflective, or battery-powered LED-lit signage (approx. $35).
    Clearly mark all emergency exits, including non-barred windows, fire escapes, etc.
  • Obtain escape ladders for upper-story rooms and make sure they are easily usable in emergencies.
  • Ensure all major exit path infrastructure is made of fire-safe material. This includes hallways, doors, stairs. (Especially if you have "decorative" or private stairs, lofts, ladders, poles.)
  • Make sure doors swing away from you as you move along the exit (egress) path. Re-orient hinges as necessary. Doors need to move in the direction of “egress,” or total exit from both the building and its grounds. (For example, a door that opens to the outdoors but into an enclosed courtyard does not count as true “egress.”) Exit signs should ideally point in the direction of egress, not just any point on the “building envelope” (exterior walls).
  • Install “panic hardware AKA crash bars” on your exit doors where it is possible to replace knobs or latches. It makes sure venues can be locked from the outside without sacrificing the ability to open them from the inside. A Panic Exit Bar costs approximately $60 + labor and typically requires a skilled person to install.
  • In non-exit doors, locks that require keys from both sides are illegal in public or multi-occupant buildings. These locks should be replaced with exit deadbolt locks (accessible by key on exterior/hall, use latch from inside the room. These are useful for individual studios and cost approximately $30 each.
  • Obtain and install functional smoke and carbon monoxide detectors (30 feet apart in common areas, one in each enclosed room). Consult the manual of your individual detector for testing frequency, but if you don’t have the manual, test the batteries at least every 6 months.
  • Obtain, install, and clearly label non-expired fire extinguishers (75 feet apart in common areas). If your space has contained studios or bedrooms, include a fire extinguisher in each.
  • Store flammable/combustible/hazardous material properly (solvents, gasoline, kerosene, spray paint, and more.) Use appropriate individual containers, flammables cabinets, etc.
  • Keep all electrical panels, water and gas valves, meters, and other infrastructure accessible and identifiable, with a minimum 3' of space at their front and sides at all times, in case someone needs to access them in an emergency. Depending on the area of the building, you may want to define the space around electrical panels with a chain link fence.
  • Make sure your electrical wiring is properly grounded and attached to breakers, so if the system overloads it shuts off rather than exploding. If you regularly lose power during events, first be thankful that the breakers are working as they should, but also acknowledge that your system is not adequate to handle your needs. You must update the system, or modify what you book there until you can update it.
  • Connect your electronics to surge-protecting power strips. Especially do this for power-intensive items like space heaters, fans, electronic instruments and gear. Clear space around electronics and wiring, and keep electrical items dust-free.
  • Avoid running long light gauge extension cords in order to access outlets. (Learn more about extension cord suggestions.)
  • Provide a designated outdoor smoking area, free of clutter and flammables, with fire-safe disposal containers.
  • Have non-flammable, non-power-dependent lighting available indoors, for example, battery operated candles and flashlights.
  • Review emergency procedures and run periodic emergency drills with residents, staff, and volunteers. Orient visitors to emergency procedures.




  • Your venue (for up to 500 people) should have at least two exits.
  • Post floor plans of the space in visible areas, with rooms (including “private/staff only” sections) doors, stairs, windows, bathrooms, and fire extinguishers clearly marked. These can be simple, informal, and hand-drawn.
  • When possible, keep performance spaces on the ground floor/same floor as building exits.
    Replace DIY walls that don't have proper insulation and sheetrock. Wood panel walls with hollow cavities in the center are fire hazards. Consider the space’s use and your needs when choosing how to build a wall. Metal studs are relatively inexpensive and don’t add to fire risk, but they are less environmentally sustainable than wood studs, which do add to a structure’s “fire load.”
  • Keep heat-generating lighting equipment to a minimum. Use LED or fluorescent bulbs whenever possible, as they generate significantly less heat. While LED bulbs are initially more expensive, incandescent floods can overheat, becoming dangerous to the touch and potentially combustible.
  • Use flame-retardant fabrics and materials for sound absorption/isolation (eg, curtains, fiberglass panels). Do not use bedding or packing materials.
  • Check your corridor length: Ideally, dead end corridors shall not exceed 20’ in length.
  • Have 2 exits: Venues hosting 1-500 Occupants typically need a minimum of 2 exits. In multi story venues, most city codes require two points of egress on each floor (typically, the main exit stairwell and a fire escape on each floor.) The exits have to be separated by a min distance, which may vary based on location. One at each end of building is a good first pass.
  • Install emergency lighting along your exit (egress) paths. Include 1-2 fixtures on each path, with battery backup in case the power goes out. If you install exit lighting, signage it may help to install it low (1-2 feet up) to the ground. When there is smoke, you likely can’t see and will be moving low to the ground,
  • Install sprinklers, if you are able and empowered to do so. It is possible to instal a DIY residential sprinkler system, but it is ideal to to hire a local design/build fire protection contractor to handle all drawings, installation and fire inspection.
  • Building Upgrade Required, Prickly or Uncertain Owner - arm yourself with information. Get an estimate for design and installation of a sprinkler system including inspection fees. If in Oakland, KIVA Oakland provides micro-loans up to $5000. KIVA operates in several cities. The City of Oakland will work with groups to arrive at compliant solution. But before approaching the City, show commitment by investing in extinguishers and emergency exit signs (you bought them, you own them). Get the space spic-and-span to show commitment to order. Approach KIVA with loan application (but do not submit); Approach City of Oakland with upgrade intent (conversation only) Once Oakland and KIVA give verbal blessing, approach landlord with desire to upgrade and that you will invest in the sprinkler but wish a 5-year lease with no rent increase during that time. The agreement should include if the owner sells, the owner is obligated to pay back the cost of the sprinkler.




  • Limit the number of attendees based on your venue's size. (For a generic capacity estimate, assume you’ll need a minimum of 5 square feet per person in the common areas.
  • Measure the square footage of public space in your building and divide by 5 - the result is the number of people you can allow in at one time.) Staff the entrances/exits to make sure it doesn’t get too full.
  • Announce the location of exits before and during each event.
  • Do not allow smoking, candles, pyrotechnics, fireworks, incense, or any open flame indoors. Suggest alternatives for smokers (abstention, vaping, nicotine patch, gum, edibles, etc.) especially if you cannot provide an adequate outdoor smoking area.
  • Have an emergency plan (fire, flood, earthquake, active shooter, etc.). Have people in place who know what to do. Make sure these people are easily identifiable. If something goes wrong at an event, visitors need to know who can help.
  • Ask your community for support. Many of us are contractors, electricians, plumbers, construction workers, architects, firefighters, acousticians, food safety experts, etc. who might be willing to at least evaluate your conditions, suggest options, or rank the urgency of changes needed. Offer an exchange based on what you can afford. For example, you might offer free admission for an agreed duration or number of events, or organize a fundraiser to compensate community members for their labor and expertise. Ask if anyone is willing and able to help pro bono or create a payment plan if you truly have no alternative. Just talk to your people and work it out.
  • Communicate accessibility (or inaccessibility) information on event promotions, especially in media like Facebook where unlimited text is allowed. That way, attendees can consent in advance to the conditions they'll experience in the venue. Some specifics to note:
    • Wheelchair accessibility of venue & restrooms (When bathrooms are inaccessible, you can rent an accessible port-a-potty. Ramps are rentable from medical supply stores and drugstores for $30-40.)
    • Primary languages of performance or text content; availability of ASL or international language interpretation
    • All-gender restrooms, or gendered restrooms
    • Scent-free space or Scented products used
    • All-Ages or Age-Restricted
    • Space for breast feeding/pumping, diaper-changing
    • Allergens: pets, plants, etc.
    • Availability or un-availability of drug use harm reduction supplies (needle drop box, Naloxone kits, clean needle exchange, etc.)




  • Offer support to local venues if you are able to share skills and expertise in building safety. Clarify up front your credentials, your availability, any personal or professional boundaries, and compensation expectations (pro bono, trade/barter, or cash). Don’t be shy to expect compensation for your efforts. Your hard work and wisdom are worth it.
  • Ask venues how you can help in other ways: organize and attend work parties; fundraise or get materials for improvements.
  • Make a plan. When you first get to a place that you haven't been before, consider possible dangers such as fire, earthquake, flood, active shooter, etc. Figure out where exits are and make quick emergency plans.
  • Be aware of people with mobility concerns when you attend public events. This includes those with disabilities, children, elders, people who are intoxicated. It is standard emergency-protocol to keep oneself safe first when an emergency is actually taking place, but in non-emergencies we can all be more aware of each other's needs when we are together.
  • Speak up. We have begun to establish a culture where it is considered helpful and welcome to demand safer spaces that are free of behavioral threats, such as gender-based and sexual harassment, abuse, assault, misogyny, homophobia, transmisogyny, transphobia, racism, xenophobia, ableism, fatphobia, ageism, classism, and bigotry in all its forms. We must also include literal building and life safety in our demands to keep our spaces safer. It is integral to disability justice, as well as overall community safety. If you witness questionable conditions, investigate - you deserve to understand. If you know something is dangerous, call it out immediately and demand change so the venue can become a safer space for your whole community.



  • SAFERSPAC.ES - Post offers or requests for venue safety support, from a DIY perspective
  • 1+ - An established nonprofit clearinghouse of architects, engineers, and other allied professionals who are interested in providing general pro-bono design services








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