9.4 Castles in the Air: Mitigating the Health Impacts of Weather-Related Bounce House Accidents

Wednesday, 13 January 2016: 4:45 PM
Room 333-334 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
John A. Knox, University of Georgia, Athens, GA; and T. E. Gill, C. A. Williams, L. V. Boggs, E. Schumacher, K. Arney, N. Bagley, I. Boatman, J. Croft, J. Printup, J. Rackley, C. Scarborough, J. White, and D. J. Novlan

Portable inflatable amusement devices, also known as “bounce houses” or “jumping castles,” are popular amusement devices for children's entertainment at organized public events as well as in private yards. They are vulnerable to being moved and/or damaged in winds, even sometimes when anchored as per supplier's recommendations. We review this phenomenon from case studies of recent highly publicized events in the U.S. and overseas, with a focus on the meteorological drivers of the winds which sent the castles in motion. We also provide recommendations to stakeholders and policymakers regarding mitigation of the health risks due to the use of these devices.

An examination of over 40 such events during the past decade reveals that injuries have occurred to dozens of children and adults, both to children inside airborne houses and to bystanders hit by them. In a few cases, life-threatening and fatal injuries have occurred. These weather-related bounce house accidents have been associated with synoptic-scale conditions, such as cold air advection; microscale vortices (dust devil, waterspout); and mesoscale (thunderstorm outflow) winds. Synoptic-scale and convective outflows tend to send these structures tumbling, while dust devils and waterspouts can cause bounce houses to physically take flight, even sailing over houses and landing tens of meters downstream. Wind gusts as low as approximately 10 m/s (20 mph) have set bounce houses in motion.

We conclude with an analysis of current state policies with regard to bounce house safety. This analysis indicates that about half of U.S. states have some sort of policy in place, but that policies and specifics can range widely from state to state. This analysis of current policies and practices highlights areas for improvement and offer recommendations for safer use of bounce houses, based on our case studies.

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