Insuring escape room risks. Escape room games are relatively new enterprises in the U.S. and challenge players to ‘escape’ in an hour or less. (Photo: Shutterstock)

If you’ve never been in a place called, “Rush to Escape,” “Prison Break,” or “The Basement,” chances are you haven’t tried to get out of an escape room. These live adventure games usually take place in a room or series of rooms, and test players’ ingenuity and problem-solving abilities.

Escape rooms were first introduced about 15 to 20 years ago in Japan and Hungary, says Daryl Davis, secretary of the Association for Room Escapes of North America (ARENA). They started spreading globally and reached places like Australia before arriving in the U.S. in 2013. Davis estimates that there are currently 2500 brick and mortar locations across the U.S.

Just what is an escape game?

Escape room games are usually played in teams of 6-10 people, and the rooms are filled with clues that players collect in order to move into the next phase or “room,” with the goal of escaping in an hour or less. Some games include characters who participate as part of the setting or helpers who watch the players through closed circuit cameras and offer clues or suggestions when players become stumped. The cost to play is usually somewhere between $25-35 per person.

Davis says the escape rooms themselves vary in size from 1800 square feet for one game to as large as 14,000 square feet for operations that offer multiple game scenarios. “The average size runs about 3500 square feet,” he adds. Mobile scenarios also exist, where a team can set up a private course for team building at a client’s location or rooms on wheels that travel to a site and set up in a parking lot or other open space.

The recent fire in Poland, where five teenage girls were killed following a gas leak in the heating system of the escape room, highlights some of the risks this new form of entertainment raises.

“Escape rooms are relatively new businesses, and insurers want history and scale to price the risk, and this business doesn’t have it,” explains Davis. “Most underwriters will classify it as entertainment or amusement. Once you go to that framework, it doesn’t work. There is no big equipment. No outside exposures and no big mobs or groups since you only have about seven people in a room at one time. There are also limited physical components that could cause injury.”

Davis identifies several risks associated with escape room locations:

  • dark or dim lighting that increases the chances for slips or falls;
  • a small minority of owners who lock people in the rooms (ARENA does not allow their members to do this);
  • trap doors with mechanisms that could fail in some way; and
  • a combination of different personalities in a single escape room where the sense of competition becomes too intense. Alcohol consumption can also aggravate these issues.

Because of these concerns, ARENA worked closely with Take1 Insurance to create a program that considers the unique needs and risks of its members. The policy is only available to ARENA members.

ARENA member firms must agree not to lock customers in the rooms (this was a key issue in the Poland fire), must provide good fire safety and follow local fire codes, and have two egresses out of the building.

“So far there have been no claims under the program, which is a testament to the customers and the owners,” says Scott Carroll, executive vice president and program director for Take1 Insurance. “ARENA is educating the owners and we built the program around what they think are critical components of operating a safe escape room environment.”

One of the areas where Davis would like to see more awareness for their members involves cybersecurity risks. “Cyber risk is a concern because the vast majority of owners don’t accept cash. Everything is handled electronically and that sets them up for cybercrimes. Many assume they are covered by Stripe, Square, Chase or whoever processes their transactions, and that company is on the hook for the loss, when actually the owner is responsible,” he adds.

Assessing and being aware of cyber risks is particularly critical for small- and medium-sized businesses because according to the National Cyber Security Alliance, almost 70% of attacks are focused on small businesses and 60% of the small- and medium-sized companies that experience a cyberattack go out of business within six months.