By Karen Appold
When looking to make a waterpark as safe as it can be, there are lots of areas to address. At Pelican Harbor Indoor/Outdoor Aquatic Park, in Bolingbrook, Ill., Tim Jaskiewicz, aquatic manager, said his best advice for running a safe waterpark is to have a well-trained staff. “They are the ones who conduct inspections, maintain pool chemistry, respond to emergencies and enforce rules,” he said.
In addition to training staff to enforce rules and regulations, Lynne Gallo, general manager, Tomahawk Lake Waterpark, Sparta, N.J., said that good signage is key to maintaining a safe park. Furthermore, all patrons are given the rules when they enter the park. Also, daily maintenance and inspections, along with making repairs promptly, is critical.
Jim Kunau, general manager, Hurricane Alley Waterpark, Corpus Christi, Texas, said safety needs to be established as a top priority. “A culture of people being concerned about safety comes from the top down,” he said. “You monitor it, teach it, measure it and preach it,” he said.
According to Joshua Martinez, director of aquatics, Wilderness at the Smokies, Sevierville, Tenn., “We are dedicated to ensuring that our pools and attractions are inspected daily. Continuing educational training is a must for lifeguards.”
Tom Phelps, general manager, Palm Island Indoor Waterpark, Batavia, N.Y., said park staff perform an opening inspection of the grounds and attractions. “Keep a detailed maintenance log of what has been done in the past, so if there is a recurring problem you work on fixing it and make sure staff keeps a closer eye on it,” he said.
For outside attractions, purchasing a storm radio and phone app that tracks lightning strikes in the area is beneficial. This can be helpful for staff if a guest tries to disagree with them about a situation.
“We schedule staff members’ start times before the park opens, to make sure they are ready to begin their day,” Phelps said. “They should be awake and have a positive attitude. If they begin their day in a negative way, it will radiate through the rest of the staff and onto guests.”
Byron O’Donnell, assistant general manager, Sahara Sam’s Oasis, West Berlin, N.J., said the best way to maintain a park is to be proactive. “Take measures to minimize an incident from happening,” he said. “We do daily safety inspections on every attraction before opening the park. We have proper safety signs printed in bold, easy-to-read text. We have free access to life jackets, so anyone who can’t swim can have that protection.”
At Typhoon Texas, Evan Barnett, general manager, said safety is embedded into its culture. “We constantly evaluate our team, processes, and operating functions through the prism of safety,” he said. “Moreover, reinforcing positive behaviors maximizes our approach to safety and preparedness.”
Pelican Harbor Indoor/Outdoor Aquatic Park strictly enforces its swimmer to counselor ratio for all of its groups and swim tests every child coming with a group. Gallo said the park continually updates and upgrades equipment as well as signage and improves training of staff with in-services in order to maintain a safe environment.
In an effort to enhance safety, Hurricane Alley Waterpark is in the process of having non-aquatic managers go to safety school where they become certified lifeguard instructors. “Safety becomes their top priority when they get trained,” Kunau said.
Wilderness at the Smokies has signed up for unannounced waterslide attendant audits. “They will measure the ability of the slide attendant to properly educate riders on its rules, properly place riders on the attraction and ensure that they safely exit,” Martinez said. “The unannounced audits are conducted quarterly and are graded on a pass or fail rubric. This program will create accountability for slide attendants and the resort through a third party.”
Sahara Sam’s Oasis also has a third-party safety auditor provide a second opinion on its operations. Daily safety inspections include an itemized checklist for each of its 14 attractions. Some items include making sure that nuts and bolts are tight, that no rust exists, that there is proper water flow and that ride surfaces are smooth. If something looks like it will need a repair soon, it is fixed.
Recently, Phelps said the park added a staff member to the water of the basketball pool. “This allows them to be more in the middle of the situation and guests tend to pay more attention,” he said. “This idea came about from us bringing in Red Cross instructors to observe the park without staff and guests’ knowledge. By having outside people do observations, we can see how they are acting when a supervisor or manager is not watching them.”
Phelps has completed training to become a Red Cross instructor, which allows him to do more in depth in-service training along with making sure that all staff certifications are up to date and training is completed.
Keeping guests safe is an ongoing challenge. At Hurricane Alley Waterpark, guests who can’t swim must wear life jackets. Anyone under 42 inches tall must always be within an arm’s length of a responsible party. “No running” signs are posted in both English and Spanish.
From top management to security and down to all attendants, all staff are on the same page when it comes to understanding and enforcing the rules, Gallo said. “If staff are too lenient when enforcing rules, guests can become unruly,” she said. “Management backs up our staff to the fullest if they direct a guest to follow the rules. If patrons do not abide by the rules and therefore create an unsafe environment, they are asked to leave the park.”
The lifeguards and park attendants at Pelican Harbor Indoor/Outdoor Aquatic Park have to know the rules and reasons for enforcement. The head lifeguards and managers must stay active with enforcement and support and back up the lifeguards.
Typhoon Texas operates and enforces a common-sense code of conduct that is consistent with the operation of a family waterpark destination. “These policies are posted at its entry and on its website,” Barnett said.
Proper training of lifeguards is crucial to helping guests behave safely. “Some guests are simply unaware of what is and is not acceptable,” Martinez said. “A confident professional lifeguard is needed to help guide swimmers. The International Lifeguard Training Program through Ellis & Associates is a 24-hour course that prepares lifeguards with the needed skills to help swimmers behave safely. At the end of the program the lifeguard is certified in automatic electronic defibrillator use, cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills, first aid skills, lifeguarding skills and professionalism.”
Phelps said staff explain the rules to guests instead of just blowing their whistle and saying “no.” For example, staff might say something like, “I would like everyone to be aware that the balls in the basketball pool are for basketball only; please do not whip or throw them at each other” or “while in the spa you need to keep your head above water as the jets make it harder to see to the bottom and we do not want someone to slip under and not be seen.” “We also enforce that if we speak to the same child twice, on the third occurrence we have a supervisor go with the child and speak to their parents,” he said.
O’Donnell says it’s important to have managers out and about at the park. “They need to be out there, making sure safety protocols are being followed,” he said. “This also gives customers the opportunity to speak with a manager, if desired.”