What you can do to stay safe in a theme park, and what theme parks can do to help keep you safe, too
Written by Robert Niles
Last week's horrible events in Texas and Ohio remind us of the ever-present struggle to keep theme park safe. With tons of equipment moving at high speeds, opportunities for danger abound at theme parks. Yet much simpler hazards claim the most victims in parks each year — sunburns, overheating, pedestrian collisions, and such.
You've got a greater chance of getting seriously hurt in a car accident on the way to a theme park than you do of being hurt on a ride while there. But, obviously, accidents do happen. You can minimize your chances of getting hurt at a theme park — from dangers great and small — by following the advice in our theme park safety tips.
Theme park visitors can do much to keep themselves safe in a park. But, at some point, we rely on parks to ensure that they've provided safe facilities and operations for us to enjoy. The rise of the Internet has helped to ensure that the days are over when people got hurt in theme parks without anyone hearing about it. Too many fan communities are watching what's happening in the parks on a daily basis. When I worked at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, an accident at Pirates of the Caribbean led to one visitor being seriously injured and hospitalized. But the local newspaper an TV stations never reported it. Disney's own EMTs responded, and no one needed to report the incident to outside authorities or law enforcement. The local reporters simply had no way of knowing what had happened.
That's not how things happen today. In addition to oversight from thousands of daily visitors using social media to publish to the world, states such as Florida and California are now recording injury accidents at theme parks. With so much more public attention paid to safety, perhaps it's not a coincidence that parks are working even more aggressively to implement new safety procedures. A generation ago, you didn't see gates at the loading platforms on most Disney rides as you do today, for example.
But while mechanical innovation can help improve safety in the parks, it's the operators who provide the final line of defense for visitors. Great theme park attractions operators prevent accidents. Poorly trained and inexperienced operators don't. An experienced operator can sense when visitors are uncomfortable getting on a ride — whether it's a child who's about to cry or an adult on the verge of a panic attack. Great operators know how to intervene in a way that keeps the ride running, the line moving and all visitors out of harm's way. I've joked about my method of asking women riders if they were pregnant, but that's the type of pro-active approach operators must take to prevent accidents from happening.
Great operators become great through one thing — experience. Training helps, but operators need time on the job to learn how to see problems before they happen. But operators can't get that necessary experience if they can't afford to stay on the job long enough to get it. The cost avoided in damages and increased insurance premiums by a single fatal accident prevented can pay for the extra pay and benefits that can entice many operators to stay on the job longer, becoming more experienced and better operators as a result. But park managers and corporate leaders need to recognize that connection for it happen.
Over the next many weeks, those of use who continue to follow the story will learn more about what happened late last week in Texas and Ohio. But as we return our attention to theme park safety issues, let's not limit the discussion to lap bars, restraint and ride systems, and other mechanical elements. Let's start talking more about what parks can do to ensure that they're offering visitors a well-trained, experienced crew of operators to help keep them safe, as well.
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