By Karen Appold
Keeping a waterpark as safe as possible is an ongoing process. Parks take certain measures before opening day, during the park’s open season and after the park closes for the season to maximize safety. Here’s a look at certain steps that some waterparks take in an effort to put safety first.
Before the Park Opens for the Season
Before opening day, Cheryl Swift, aquatics manager, Mountain Creek Waterpark, Vernon, N.J., said all attractions are inspected on multiple levels. Electrical components are inspected and bonded before attractions are filled with water. Once water is in, certified pool operators adjust the chemical balance. Then, the health department and a laboratory test it prior to opening for the season. In addition, the state tests and inspects all rides before opening.
Since CoCo Key Water Resort in Mount Laurel, N.J., is a year-round resort, the park closes for two weeks in October and reviews everything from head to toe, said Andrew James, director of water resort operations. “We bring in technicians from our slide manufacturer to inspect, repair or replace whatever is needed,” he said. The state of New Jersey also performs an annual inspection in December as well as surprise inspections throughout the year which all attractions must pass to be permitted to operate.
Eric Anderson, owner, Splash Away Bay, Middlebury Conn., said water rides undergo multiple inspections. First, there is an inspection from a private engineer, next there’s the local town building inspector, then there’s the Connecticut Office of State Police Inspection, and finally its insurance company sends an inspector. The waterpark also conducts its own pre-opening safety inspections.
Before the park opens for the season, preventative maintenance, structural integrity and overall maintenance of all attractions at the aquatic park are assessed by appropriate staff and worked on in the months leading up to opening day, said Rob Bast, aquatic manager, Pelican Harbor Indoor/Outdoor Aquatic Park, Bolingbrook, Ill. Beginning in April, the maintenance team will begin filling pools and turning on equipment to ensure that everything operates correctly. Staff will also touch up the outside of attractions, as well as address anything inside the slide flume.
Todd Lester, senior manager of operations/human resources, Clementon Park and Splash World, Clementon, N.J., said all attractions go through a thorough set of inspections prior to opening for the season per manufacturer guidelines, including a third-party inspection by the Department of Community Affairs in New Jersey. “Some key things we look for during preseason checks are ensuring that all pool and slide surfaces are smooth and free from cracks or chips and that all parts of the slide and structure are secure.”
Inspection Process for Rides During the Season
Lester said inspections during the season are very similar to the park’s preseason inspections. “There are sets of daily, weekly and monthly inspections that the manufacturer requires along with our own inspection items,” he said. If any attraction fails a part of the inspection, it will not open until the issue has been fixed and a certified pool operator or recognized certified maintenance technician signs off on it.
Mountain Creek Waterpark is divided into sections for staffing purposes. Each section supervisor is responsible for walking each ride to inspect it for visual readiness. They also inspect the inflation of all tubes for rides that use them and surrounding areas for patron safety. After the visual inspection is complete and pool maintenance has tested the water again, lifeguards ride the attraction for safety. Certified pool operators and a lab test the water in each attraction daily.
At CoCo Key Water Resort, water resort engineers perform a physical and visual inspection every morning before the resort opens. Lifeguard supervisors perform a similar inspection upon their arrival. Engineers perform daily chemical inspections every two hours.
Bast said supervisory staff have a checklist that they go through for each waterslide before opening each day. The inspection ranges from the bottom of the attraction, the stairway up to the slides and the inside of slides.
Inspection Process for Rides After the Season
After her park closes for the season, Swift said water from each attraction is drained according to Department of Environmental Protection guidelines. The pool maintenance department winterizes all pumps and filters. Rafts are deflated and stored for the winter, along with lifeguard rescue tubes and life vests.
During the winter season, CoCo Key Water Resort is closed Monday through Thursday. On those days, the park conducts deep cleaning and general maintenance.
At the end of the season, Lester said all pools are drained and winterized. “We then begin planning for the new season by discussing any capital projects or expansions, and budgeting for any repairs,” he said. “If we had a particularly good year, we may begin some projects early such as painting structures or waxing slides.”
Inspection Process for New Rides
Before a park purchases a new ride, plans from the park and the ride manufacturer must be submitted to the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), who then grants permission to install any new attractions, Swift said. Installation happens with cooperation from an engineer and the manufacturer along with the park’s facilities department. Electrical components, pumps and filters must all have plans and permits from local and state authorities. Once installation is complete, the DCA must observe 300 to 400 test rides before granting a permit.
When his park adds a new ride, Bast said they first look at the manufacturer’s suggested use and rules. Secondly, he invites the waterpark’s insurance company and lifeguard certification company to take a look at the attraction and obtains their opinions on items such as staff position, signage and scripts.
All new rides go through a rigorous inspection process, Lester said. It starts with an engineering review with the Department of Community Affairs in New Jersey. The Department of Community Affairs, along with the park, does a complete inspection as per the manufacturer before the ride can be operated in the state.
In recent years, Bast said visitation has been pretty steady year to year. “I believe that is the case because we are one of only two indoor/outdoor aquatic parks in the state,” he said. In addition, whenever it rains the park still has a few pools and attractions open.
Swift said the park was performing ahead of budgeted visits after a few weeks into the season.
For James, however, annual visitation is 169,115, which is down slightly due to increased competition.
Anderson’s park has seen steady growth over the last 10 years. “This is because we’ve added new attractions yearly,” he said.
Ride Safety Training Procedures for Employees
At Mountain Creek Waterpark, Vernon, N.J., Cheryl Swift, aquatics manager, said each employee must go through a company and department-specific orientation which includes training in the park’s layout and where to gather specific resources. Some departments require certain certifications such as first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and bloodborne pathogens. If those certifications are required, the park provides that training at its facility. Lifeguards must go through 24 hours of class time, including book work and water skills training, through an international aquatic safety and risk management consulting firm.
All of the guards, managers and directors at CoCo Key Water Resort in Mount Laurel, N.J., are licensed as professional rescuers in first aid, CPR, oxygen and automated external defibrillator administration, said Andrew James, director of water resort operations. Before operating an attraction, lifeguards go through a classroom and one-on-one shadowing with a senior guard. Guards also complete four hours of in-service training each month.
At Pelican Harbor Indoor/Outdoor Aquatic Park, Bolingbrook, Ill., attendants are stationed at the top of waterslides during the summer (lifeguards during the non-summer months) and receive training prior to working, said Rob Bast, aquatic manager. Park attendants have a script that they should tell each rider, regardless if they know the rider has heard it before. They are trained on the proper position for the riders when going down the waterslide. “Park attendants do not send the next swimmer down the waterslide until they are given a thumbs up by the lifeguard in the catch pool,” he said.
All lifeguards are trained through an aquatic safety and risk management consulting firm and have standard first aid and basic life support certification, said Todd Lester, senior manager of operations/human resources, Clementon Park and Splash World, Clementon, N.J. Once they have completed their lifeguard training, they train guards on the park’s specifics, including how to scan bodies of water depending on the number of guards, evacuation procedures and safety rules. All staff must also go through individual ride training and be signed off by a certified trainer. Then, there’s a minimum of four hours of training each month. “This follow-up in-service training keeps us on top of our game and our skills sharp,” he said.
How Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) Are Part of the Safety Toolbox
Because a major emergency could happen at any time, CoCo Key Water Resort in Mount Laurel, N.J., has staff ready to go at a moment’s notice. “Time waiting for a specific group of people would delay critical care to a guest,” said Andrew James, director of water resort operations. “The automated external defibrillator (AED) is one of the most important tools we have; all responders should be trained on it.”
Mountain Creek Waterpark in Vernon, N.J., is also equipped with AEDs, said Cheryl Swift, aquatics manager. One is located in its emergency medical services (EMS) department at the base to cover emergencies in the base area, one is on its mobile EMS cart in the park and two are stationed in the park. All lifeguards, ride attendants and EMS staff are trained in use of an AED as part of their CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) certifications.
Pelican Harbor Indoor/Outdoor Aquatic Park, Bolingbrook, Ill., has a couple AEDs in its aquatic park. Managers, head guards and lifeguards become certified to use them. Park attendants might receive a bit of instruction on them, but only to the point where they would be able to assist the lifeguards.
Todd Lester, senior manager of operations/human resources, Clementon Park and Splash World, Clementon, N.J., said the park has four AEDs. Every lifeguard and emergency technician is trained on how to properly use an AED along with several managers. “When you are dealing with a cardiac emergency, time is everything,” he said. “The faster someone can begin CPR and apply an AED, the chances of survival increase drastically.”
Eric Anderson, owner, Splash Away Bay, Middlebury Conn., said the waterpark has an AED, and that an EMT is trained on using it.