By Jennifer Byrne
If J.D Zimmerman needs to monitor any of the rides or pools at the 100,000 square foot Kalahari Resort Waterpark, all he needs to do is pick up his phone.
“One nice thing for me, as a maintenance guy, is everything can be hooked up online; I can actually sit at home and view what is going on in all the pools,” said Zimmerman, who is waterpark maintenance manager at the indoor facility. “So, before I even go into work, I can check online and see if a filtration system has stopped or had issues overnight. I know what to expect that day and I can plan for it.”
As with most aspects of modern work and play, waterparks have benefitted from leaps in technology over the past several years. The ability to harness the internet, more sophisticated filtration systems, and cutting edge safety features for rides and lifeguard training has made for a more enjoyable and safer experience.
Technology for monitoring dispatch on water rides is important, whether it pertains to an individual on a basic water slide or a boat full of water coaster riders.
“One thing we have in our water roller coaster is multiple sensors at every valley, so we can control the speed of dispatch,” Zimmerman said. “We can have multiple boats in the slide at one time due to the sensor.”
Safety sensors are particularly essential for more complex water rides, such as Waterworld California’s Break Point Plunge, introduced at the park in 2014. In this extreme water experience, thrill-seekers ascend four stories and are enclosed in a launch capsule before being sent down the world’s steepest body slide – 270 feet of wild, looping fun.
“This ride has a hydraulic element, and it’s quite a steep drop, so we monitor it closely,” said Hannah Brown, spokesperson for Waterworld, located in Concord, Calif. “It has an electronic panel that will register things like the riders’ weights. And if there is a cross fire or too much weight or any sort of problem that the machine senses isn’t quite right, the door won’t open and the ride won’t proceed.”
Even for more basic water slides, the use of sensor technology is important to ensure safety.
“Our water slides do have a number of safety technologies built in to the construction, such as red light/green light stop and go systems, so that the dispatcher gets a green light to send someone down,” said Todd Foust, special facilities administrator at Indian RiverSide Park in Martin County, Fla., which gets approximately 100,000 visitors during its seasonal operations. “There are also automatic shut off switches to the pump, that will kill the slide if there’s any problem.”
Other technologies that are valuable in waterparks are those used in the emergency and first aid training of lifeguards and ride operators. Parks may require their operators to undergo training programs established by Ellis & Associates, an aquatics safety and risk management consulting firm. This company frequently offers updated training in the use of dispatch technologies, and also trains lifeguards in the use of lifesaving technologies.
“They [Ellis and Associates] recently rolled out some new material in their training programs,” said Brandon Moore, Vice President of Operations at Sahara Sam’s Oasis in West Berlin, N.J., which is visited by roughly 375,000 customers annually. “Their training now includes training in the administration of EpiPens, pulse oximeters to get an evaluation of oxygen in the blood, and training in defibrillator use.”
According to Ralphie Ortega, Waterpark Operations Manager at Kalahari Resort Waterpark, the technology training of operators and guards is as important as the technology itself.
“These guards go through specific training for each slide, and they’re trained in the specifics of safety,” he said. “They are also aware of the height requirements for allowing children on each ride.”
Another essential technological component of waterpark operations is water sanitation technology. According to Brown, Waterworld California has replaced its previous sand filters with Neptune Benson’s Defender regenerative filters.
“These filter the water so that it’s basically cleaner than bathtub water,” she said. “The sand filters had to be backwashed with a hose to remove algae. The Defender filters use less water and make water clearer. That results in a better rider experience and less water used by our state. It’s a win-win.”
Another technology that has become standard at waterpark pools is UV systems for the removal of microorganisms such as cryptosporidium, which was recently the cause of waterborne illness in several recreational facilities.
“Cryptosporidium is nasty stuff, and UV is the only technology proven to kill it,” Foust said. “UV is a supplemental water sanitation system in addition to your regular sanitation system. As the water passes across the UV, it kills any bacteria that is there.”
Matt Livziey, operations manager at Kalahari Resort Waterpark, agreed that the UV system is very important for destroying potentially chlorine-resistant organisms such as cryptosporidium.
“The UV takes any microorganisms that can survive in chlorine – and some of them do manage to survive in chlorine – and it really makes sure those are taken care of,” he said.
Another benefit to UV sanitation: it helps reduce that tell-tale water park smell of heavy chlorination.
“It really helps us in the waterpark industry to combat the smell of chlorine,” Livziey said. “As waterparks evolve, customers will notice they are smelling a lot less chlorine.”