5 Safety Tactics Water Park Operators Should Consider
“The body won’t go where the mind has not been.” That is a quote from the Orange County, Florida sheriff shared by Justin Brown, assistant director of aquatic operations at Universal Orlando, during his IAAPA Expo 2023 EDUSession about water park safety programs. It refers to the need for robust training so that law enforcement officers can best be prepared for real-life emergencies. According to Brown, the sheriff’s message offers a great lesson for water parks as well.
Based on his work at Universal’s Volcano Bay, Brown offered five key areas that water park operators should consider when developing their emergency preparedness programs.
Prior to placing lifeguards on the job, parks need to verify their skills. Rather than relying on outside certification, he recommends checking them in-house by evaluating how fast they can swim to a guest in distress, how well they can perform CPR, and other critical skills.
An orientation program with hands-on training about the proper ways to handle tasks such as loading and dispatching vehicles and recognizing stimuli in the water is also important.
“We put our new lifeguards through a four or five-day training and then we test them on the knowledge that they gained,” Brown says. “The icing on the cake is the leadership sign-off and verification process.”
He adds that it’s important for parks to consider how they will train the trainers and recommends developing lesson plans and training guides to ensure consistency.
Modeling after Universal’s full lifecycle approach to emergency preparedness, Brown says it’s important to identify the goals and objectives of each session and do dress rehearsal run-throughs to review and tweak them before presenting them.
He also notes that it’s essential to document what you did and when you did it. He stresses that keeping thorough records is vital throughout all key areas of safety programs.
“When you can pull out the roster, the instructor, the lesson plan, and everything down to a T of what you did, that can be very important–especially in any type of litigation,” notes Brown.
Audits are the third key area in Universal’s program, which include a quick snapshot of an employee's performance, more extensive observation of their ability to recognize and respond to emergencies, and a full check of their lifeguard skills
The audits should allow for retraining and remediation when necessary. Brown recommends bringing in an external auditor to evaluate the park’s standards and its lifeguards.
Hands-on Safety Drills
Hands-on drills offer opportunities to pull everything together. They should be both announced and unannounced and can be live as well as tabletop drills. Among the things they should include are water extrication, simulations of head, neck, and spine injuries, and first aid emergencies.
“Whether you are seasonal or a year-round facility, it’s really important, at minimum, to retrain your team annually,” Brown advises.
The training should be hands-on, he says, and review operational and safety protocols. It’s especially critical to share any changes to procedures, such as lifeguards taking annual exams as a requirement.
“Consistency is key,” concludes Brown. “And having a documentation plan is very important.”