Jeff Stephenson, P.E., is the Team Leader of [...]
This post originally appeared on the blog last year, and since David Russell has continued his work designing updates and additions to this year’s most frightening local haunted house in Pelham, Warehouse 31, we thought it was worth another read. Get a behind the scenes peak at what goes into creating these popular attractions each year below. Happy Halloween!
There are many ways civil engineering can manifest itself in day to day life, but one way that might not immediately come to mind is haunted house design.
But that’s just what I’ve been doing for 22 years. I started with this hobby in the early 1990s with the Birmingham Jaycees Haunted House in downtown Birmingham on 29th Street. Eventually, I ventured out to work on several other charity-driven haunted houses in the area, including Atrox Factory from 2000-2005. With my professional experience and expertise, I then got an opportunity with Red Mountain Entertainment to do a haunted house in St. Augustine, Florida called Warehouse 31. After a few years with the St. Augustine house, I helped bring Warehouse 31 to Pelham, Alabama, which is where I’m currently volunteering countless hours now through Halloween.
Before coming to Sain, I worked for an architect for 10 years designing floor plans. This experience translated well since a haunted house is basically a maze of walls. Each year, I change the pathways and create new areas for scary scenes within the maze. While the structure is movable, it’s solidly built and compliant with ADA requirements and up to code on fire and emergency exits and other safety considerations. These are factors I handle regularly in my job at Sain.
I am also part of the production team that includes 90 actors and several additional people who run the technical side of things. In the past, I’ve performed as an actor, usually playing the guy who comes out with a chain saw or any other power tool. This is often one of the scenes that scares people the most and might make them curl up in the fetal position or hyperventilate, which I’ve seen many times. It’s not uncommon for actors to get smacked in the face when people get so scared. We always have good stories to tell each morning after a haunted house.
I’m retired from acting now and involved more in the technical aspects of running the house and the planning. I enjoy the 2-3 months of planning that lead up to opening night the most. Once opening night comes, it’s just surviving the month. I enjoy that part too, but I like the design and creativity of it and figuring out new ways to scare people using my civil engineering experience.