For Amusement Parks, A Visible Security Presence

August 1, 2010 No Comments

Once guests enter the gates of an amusement park, they expect to enter a world of fantasy and fun.  Far from their minds should be worries about security or safety.  Security officers at amusement parks walk a fine line. They need to show guests that they are there ready to help without interfering with the fun that the park provides.  
Founded in 1920, Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., is a 160-acre amusement park known as the first theme park in America. As Director of General Services, Greg Maldonado has worked at Knott’s Berry Farm for more than 29 years. He oversees a security force that ranges between 80 and 150 security officers and aides.
“It used to be that our guests did not like to see security visible in the park. Seeing officers at a fun place made them feel uncomfortable,” Maldonado admitted. “But now, the more visibility, the more at ease our guests are.”
Maldonado does not point to any one incident such as 9/11 for the increase in security.  He believes that security is something that has to be addressed on a daily basis and a good security force has to be able to adjust policies and procedures quickly.
“So many things go into park security. We take our officers’ training seriously, and we have different levels of security from security aides to uniformed officers to undercover officers as well.”
Knott’s Berry farm integrates technology with its security force to maintain safety.  Cameras exist throughout the park. All bags of guests and employees are checked at the entry gate, and metal detectors are used for special events that bring in more guests than usual such as the Halloween Haunt.  
“Our park is open all year, so we have to be diligent and proactive in our safety and security procedures. We have to be able to handle everything from disorderly behavior to lost children each day that we are open. We are known to be a fun and safe park, and we work hard to stay one step ahead of what we expect we need in security.”  
As Director of Public Safety for Kennywood in West Mifflin, Pa., Larry Russ has witnessed that security has become an important issue for guests.  An employee of the park for more than 30 years, Russ has seen the changes in attitude by the guests when it comes to a security presence.
“For us, we look at our policies every day, and we constantly discuss how we can upgrade security and make it better,” Russ said.  “National and local events always make us aware of the challenges we face and our responsibility to our guests.”
Kennywood carries a 100-member security force, which is visible as much as possible throughout each day.  In 1993, the park began to use metal detectors at the front gate and now has a state-of-the-art camera system throughout the park monitoring guests and employees.  The security force is not only inside the park, but outside the gates in the parking lots as well.  Upon entering the park, guests’ bags are checked.
“Guests want security; they want to feel safe in the park. We want them to know that we are looking out for them.”
One of the biggest challenges that Russ and his security staff face each day is lost children. Between 15 and 20 children get separated from their parents on a daily basis.  
“We have never had a child taken from the park, but we are aware that this can happen, so we have safety precautions in place.”
When entering the park, children and parents can get a bracelet with matching cell phone numbers. When a lost child is found, the security officer calls the cell number and the parent meets the child at a designated site in the park.  Also, extra security officers are stationed at the gates when a report of a lost child is issued.  No child can go in and out of the gate unattended and children matching descriptions of a lost child are stopped.
“Everything for us is about how we keep our guests safe.  There is so much to learn everyday and we learn, we train in different ways and we implement the changes, and we never relax.”
More than 100,000 guests visit Joyland Amusement Park in Lubbock, Texas, each year.  Founded in the early 1900s, the 14-acre Joyland offers more than 30 rides and attractions.
“We may not be the biggest park in the world, but security is our priority,” said David Dean, owner of Joyland. “We are always looking for ways to improve security and safety of all our guests.”
Dean believes that safety has to involve not only guests but employees as well.  Everybody is aware of security policies from the ride operators, to the employee group leaders, to the managers.  Dean stresses that security is not always about someone coming into the park to cause harm but just as often it is about the guests causing themselves harm.
“People come in and they forget that they have to be careful, and they have to be careful for their children as well,” he noted. “Sometimes guests forget that the same safety challenges that are outside the park are inside too.  We have to remind them a lot about how to behave in an amusement park.”
Joyland employs off-duty city and off-duty county sheriffs for their security staff.  Depending on the day and time of year, the park has anywhere from one to six officers on duty. Because of their expertise in security, the police officers do not require additional training. However, they do have to learn the layout of the park and the park’s specific procedures. Dean believes guests have become not only accustomed to seeing a visible security force but are also more grateful for it.
“Guests are so much more aware of security nowadays,” Dean said.  “I think the feeling for having more visible security has been growing over the past decade. We want to keep our guests safe and make them feel comfortable. They look for the officers. That is something that has changed over the past few years.”
Joyland’s security does perform random bag searches at the gate to prevent guests mainly from bringing in outside food and beverages. This check allows the security teams to watch more closely the guests as they come in the gates.
As with other parks, lost children is a daily concern.  Joyland has also never had a kidnapping, but the park is aware that the possibility exists. When a child is reported missing, extra security is put at the entrance and exit gates of the park, which are the only gates to the park.  Officers also search the park, and all security carry cell phones for easier communication.
Altoona, Pa.’s Lakemont Park is a 51-acre amusement park that offers more than 30 attractions. Operations Manager Bob Larson revisits his needs for security often and is always prepared to implement new procedures.  As a smaller amusement park, Larson does not maintain its own security force. Instead, the park subcontracts out its security.  Usually, there are between three and four security officers on duty at all times, and all are trained in park policies and procedures.
“We are a park that welcomes mostly local area residents,” Larson said.  “We have not had a reason to completely change our policies. We study them and practice them, but we have been fortunate that what goes on in other parks has not happened here.  With that said, we take all precautions so that our guests are as safe as possible.”
Larson noted that his security problems have more to do with guest behavior than any kind of criminal activity.
“People come in and they forget their manners or how to behave and our officers have to remind them where they are and how to act,”  he said.  “We can sell beer here, so when we have parties or something like that going on, we post extra guards to make sure no rowdiness occurs.”
Lakemont has a lost children’s office and it has served well to reunite children with their parents.  If a child is reported missing, extra security also is placed at the gate and officers are informed immediately about the lost child.  
“Lost children are our most common security problem because parents seem to let their guard down in places like this,” Larson observed.  “Because we are here each day and deal with it, we like to make sure that parents stay with their kids and guests behave so that everyone has a good time.  It’s what the park is all about.” -

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