Summer sun usually requires a trip to the pool, beach or waterpark to stay cool when school’s out. But for waterparks across the country, entertainment is only one part of the experience. Behind the scenes – it’s all about making sure guests of all ages are safe.
“Safety is one of our top priorities,” said Katie Noonan, a spokesperson for Water Safari in Old Forge, N.Y. “We have cohesive signage at each ride that informs our guests about the policies, procedures and safety information. We have an on-duty manager in each of our ride areas that oversees safety, lifeguards and ride operators.”
At Water Country at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., the park offers several American Red Cross programs to the community, including swim lessons, babysitting courses and lifeguarding classes. “For the past three years, Water Country USA has participated in the World’s Largest Swim Program,” said Ross Griggs, a member of the Water Country communications team. “We offer a free swim lesson to anyone who attends. This lesson is offered simultaneously around the world in an effort to beat the Guinness World Record for the largest swim lesson. The goal of this event is to educate people on the importance of learning to swim.”
And at Myrtle Waves Water Park in Myrtle Beach, S.C., safety signage is around every corner. “These signs include risks, height restrictions and other necessary safety precautions,” explained Krishelle Hancock, vice president of development with PARC Management, which oversees the waterpark. “As a guest enters any attraction in the park, our lifeguards provide a verbal instruction for safety during the ride, ask the guests if they have any questions, then proceed once they’ve gotten a clear acceptance from the guest. We do believe that while these safety programs are extremely important, they do not replace the use of common sense and the exercise of personal responsibility by our guests, while they visit our park.”
Lifeguards play a big role at the park – and are trained for everything. “All lifeguards hired at Myrtle Waves Water Park must be fully certified by Jeff Ellis & Associates prior to working in the park, and receive daily lifeguard training on professionalism, vigilance in scanning zones of coverage, rescue skills and the ability to manage an emergency situation,” said Hancock. “Additionally, they receive audits by Ellis to ensure they are upholding safety standards.”
As part of the park’s relationship with Jeff Ellis & Associates, the management team and lifeguard staff both receive continuous training on the most current water safety requirements. “We work with Ecolab and Coastal Property Services on chemical treatment and filtration on every water attraction in the park, and have equipment in the parks that continuously and automatically tests and adjusts those levels to ensure safety,” said Hancock. “We also maintain year-round compliance staff at our corporate office to ensure any new safety requirements or training resources are fully researched and provided to the park.”
Rocky Mountain High Standards
Colorado may be famous for skiing, but at Hyland Hills Water World in Federal Heights, it’s all about the wet stuff. “We augment that with the ‘Be Water Aware Safety Program,’ developed by the World Waterpark Association, that offers collateral reminders – posters, window decals, safety tips, etc.,” said Director Joann V. Cortez. “Swimming lessons are taught by our trained lifeguards, and vigilant monitoring of guests by all of our park staff.”
To ensure safety, Water World also partners with the local school district to offer free swim lessons to all elementary school children in the region. “The cost of the program is funded by our district’s benevolent foundation and local businesses,” she said. “Last season more than 800 swim lessons were paid for by the program.”
Like all the parks we spoke to, lifeguards play a key role in preventing emergencies, as well as responding to them. “All lifeguards are trained and certified through NASCO (National Aquatics Safety),” said Cortez, “then trained onsite with specific emphasis on rides rules and regulations as they pertain to each of our unique attractions. All guards are also fully trained in CPR and First Aid.”
Water World management also attends NASCO’s safety school and other waterpark section training at WWA and IAAPA each year.
Safety for Kids of All Ages
In Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Dorney Park and Wild Water Kingdom has been attracting generations to its park in Allentown. Since the waterpark opened, the staff has learned how to avoid problems before they happen.
“We have a variety of ways to inform our guests about waterpark safety,” admitted Carrie Basta, communications manager. “We have a variety of signage throughout the park to educate our guests. Prior to entering the park, we have general safety signs – including height requirements, dress code requirements – as well as advisories for those guests with pre-existing medical conditions.”
The park also provides a Guest Assistance Guide that reviews each attraction and the safety concerns related to each ride. “This is available online, as well as in our Ride Services Office,” she said. “In the waterpark this information is posted at each attraction for the guest to review prior to participating. We also have an announcement system at our wave pools to make any safety-related announcements, as well as to warn when the wave patterns start. Lifeguards also provide verbal safety instructions as necessary.”
Each lifeguard at the park goes through a rigorous training program provided by Jeff Ellis and Associates. “This training program is one that is used by several large waterparks,” said Basta. “Each lifeguard goes through a full weekend of training, including both classroom and practical application.” The training program includes CPR and First Aid certification, as well as online testing and demonstration to become a certified lifeguard.
“Throughout the summer, officials from Ellis perform three unannounced audits to ensure that all safety protocols are being followed according to their prior training,” she explained. “This ensures that the training is applied consistently throughout the summer, keeping our guests safe.”
As a part of the Ellis and Associates program, full-time management also attends a week-long training session – Safety School in February – each year prior to the season. “At this session, they not only renew their certification to host the training sessions for their own facilities, but discuss with management from waterparks across the nation updates and needed changes to safety procedures to make sure that we offer the highest standard of safety possible for our guests,” said Basta. “In addition, our individual company includes waterpark safety as a topic during our annual operations consistency meeting to touch base on any company or park-specific concerns.”
Because kids seem to flock to waterparks every summer, many have come up with unique ways to educate younger visitors about safety.
“When we host school field trips we have a discussion where we discuss the operations of the park,” said Drew Broderick, director of sales at Roseland Waterpark in the heart of the Finger Lakes in Canandaigua, N.Y. “During that segment we discuss the training of the lifeguards and how integral a role they play in water safety. Our lifeguarding staff is certified through J. Ellis and Associates. Every two years our head guards and aquatics director are recertified. They, in turn, train our new and returning lifeguards prior to each season. All lifeguards must pass written and skills tests, which include swimming, rescue techniques, CPR and first aid.”
Throughout each season starting in June, Roseland’s lifeguards also participate in weekly in-service training. “Our aquatics director and head lifeguards conduct frequent, surprise VAT audits (vigilance awareness training),” said Broderick. “Lifelike mannequins are strategically placed in water areas of our attractions. Lifeguards stationed at that attraction have up to 10 seconds from the time the mannequin is placed to locate and rescue that mannequin. Lifeguards requiring over 10 seconds to perform this rescue scenario are put into remediation training until they can demonstrate compliance. Similar exercises are facilitated using lifeguards as the guests needing rescue measures.”
The operations director is in constant communication with J. Ellis and Associates for updates to policies and procedures. And both the Operations Director and Maintenance Supervisor are Certified Pool-Spa Operators, though this admittedly has more to do with maintaining the water quality and chemical levels – but still a key issue for most parks who can welcome thousands of visitors each summer.
“We take water safety very seriously,” said Broderick. “Guests are offered complimentary life jackets as soon as they enter the admission gate. Safety announcements are made at the Wave Pool every five minutes. The waves in the Wave Pool are on a five minute on and five minute off cycle to ensure that our guests have time to rest and don’t become fatigued.”
Signs of the Times
At NRH2O Family Water Park North Richland, Texas, signage plays a big role in safety. “We use signage and in-park announcements (through our in-park radio station) to address sun and water safety,” explained Stephanie Hee, the waterpark’s marketing specialist. “We remind guests to drink plenty of water, wear and reapply sunscreen, be sure that everyone learns how to swim and follow all rules. We also have PA announcements provided to us from the World Waterpark Association. We also post the PLEAs from the CDC on all of our restroom stall doors.”
NRH20 is also participating in the World’s Largest Swimming Lesson this year. And throughout the year, lifeguards are tested when it comes to safety. “At any time, an auditor can watch a lifeguard without his/her knowledge to test real life incident management scenarios,” said Hee. “This approach is aimed at preventing an incident before it happens, rather than just responding after one occurs.”
And at the Greenville County Recreation District in Taylor, S.C., safety is a three-part approach thanks to signage, announcements and speeches to groups. “We also provide a summary of our safety guidelines and park policies on our website,” said Beth Scheimann, aquatics manager and training officer. “We offer community outreach swim lessons at various aquatic facilities and we visit different schools throughout the year and discuss water safety and the importance of swimming lessons. Westside Aquatic Complex is our designated training facility where our lifeguards are certified to American Red Cross standards. While our training facility is aquatic based and offers many lifeguard classes, it also offers other American Red Cross training classes such as CPR/AED for the Professional Rescuer, Blood Borne Pathogens and Lay Responder CPR/AED and First-Aid training throughout the year. In addition to receiving Lifeguard training our lifeguard staff are also required to attend monthly in-service trainings.”
The management team also stays up to date on water safety in many ways. “The management team attends many aquatic and other recreational conferences throughout the year, reads various aquatic and recreation-based publications, as well as articles by known experts in the Aquatics field, such as Tom Griffiths,” she said, “and visits and networks with other aquatic facilities around the United States.”
Slides, Rides and Other Reminders
Tracy Emery from Sandcastle Water Park in Homestead, Pa., said that safety should be addressed across the park at each ride. “Each slide attraction is equipped with a repeating announcement of safety rules and riding instructions,” said Emery. “Safety park signage is displayed at the entrance of the park and the entrance of the slides. Lifeguards are stationed at each pool and attraction to reinforce these rules.”
Similar practices are in place at Massanutten Resort in McGaheysville, Va., where educating guests is as important as making sure they have a great time. “At several points prior to entry we have signs about the general facility rules,” explained Bill Frazier, aquatics operations manager. “These explain expectations to help keep all of our guests safe in the facility. Additionally, at each ride throughout the waterpark, there are signs specific to safety related to riding that ride. These signs indicate the precautions and restrictions for individual attractions.”
It doesn’t stop there. “On each stairwell going to our taller slides there are recorded messages telling the guests of the proper ways to ride the slides and the precautions and limitations that may apply,” he said. “We station an employee near the entrance to most of our rides to ensure the guests are aware of the rules for that specific attraction and answer any questions. From these positions, they can give direction both verbally and may have written rules available, as well.”
Each year the waterpark helps with “Safety Town” to educate students locally on water safety. “We both go out to the schools and will present programs in our facilities to educate students of all ages, preschool to college age, about water safety and precautions in and around waterparks or any other body of water,” said Frazier. “Staying up to date on water safety is multi-faceted. We subscribe to many journals and websites to get the latest news and events in the industry both locally and across the country.”
The staff also participates in many webinars presented through various industry organizations, legal representatives and insurance carriers. “We belong to a variety of organizations, such as the World Waterpark Association, the Association of Aquatic Professionals and the National Recreation and Park Association,” he said. “These organizations compile the latest industry news and give frequent updates via email and other publications to address the hot topics and best industry practices. Maybe more than anything, the aquatics and waterpark industries are very sharing and often networking with other facilities gives you the best ideas of how you are doing and what to do to get better at what you are currently doing.” –