In this article, amusement park safety expert Dan Doyle discusses emergency preparedness and evacuation procedures used during roller coaster malfunctions and other emergency scenarios. Dan approaches this conversation with more than 20 years of industry experience and first hand involvement in these critical safety situations.
Guest Recovery: Roller Coaster Evacuations - Expert Article
Technical advancements in modern roller coasters have made them much safer than they have ever been. Most ride safety systems, redundant safety systems and motor controllers are monitored by computers to ensure the ride operates according to the intricate programs designed for them to run on. However, even the most vigorous maintenance schedule cannot prevent the occasional ride stoppage. Very often, these stoppages are caused by nuisance faults that the ride control system detects. If the situation is quickly resolved, the fault can be cleared and the ride can be restarted. If, on the other hand, a fault occurs which stops the ride and prevents the vehicles from completing the cycle, the operator should have a procedure in place to safely evacuate the riders.
The best case scenario is to return the ride vehicle to the unload area. Given the complexity and redundancy of modern coaster safety systems, this is often not possible within a reasonable amount of time. The ride operator should have in place a standard procedure which includes a window of time available to the maintenance technicians to resolve the issue before initiating an evacuation. Once that window has closed without a resolution, they can begin removing riders.
This procedure should also include announcements which clearly and succinctly provide information to guests in the queue and on the ride. Communication early and often to riders is key to lessening the frustration of those who have spent a long time waiting in line, as well as the apprehension of those who suddenly find themselves stopped and unable to get out of a ride vehicle.
Coaster manufacturers have included rider egress areas into the structure of the ride at the usual places that the vehicles would stop; generally at the block brake sections. If possible, an owner/operator should be closely involved with the manufacturer during the early design phase of the ride to give input and perspective to their specific location.
An incline lift is a relatively easy point from which to remove riders from a disabled coaster. However, many factors can affect the conditions of the exit path such as rain or wind, as well as the confidence and ability of the rider to make their way down a steep, unfamiliar stairway. Ride operators must include all these factors in their procedures as well as in the training of park attendants.
Alternately, if a ride vehicle is incapacitated in a location that is not meant for egress and cannot be moved to the next block brake, special care and planning must be taken to ensure that the vehicle cannot suddenly move while an evacuation is in progress. Securing the vehicle to the track with properly rated straps, chains or other devices must be performed prior to beginning an evacuation. This securing equipment must be readily available and inspected on a regular basis.
In the worst-case scenario, guests need to be evacuated at an area not specifically designed for egress. This type of evacuation requires the use of fall protection equipment on each rider and the personnel performing the evacuation.
More extreme coasters make for more challenging rider evacuation procedures. Special equipment such as manlifts or crane manbaskets should be acquired for the exclusive use of, and stationed at the coaster. Their upkeep and operation should also be part of the daily inspection performed by maintenance technicians. If emergency equipment is unavailable or inoperable, the ride should not be opened to guests.
The local fire and rescue departments should be included from the very beginning in the planning and development stages of evacuation procedures for extremely high or dangerous locations. This will ensure that specially trained personnel are familiar with the scenario and have been able to add needed expertise for successful rescue procedures. Annual rescue drills should be performed jointly with the full participation of the park’s Operations and Maintenance departments.
On older rides, owner/operators may need to create their own evacuation devices and areas. As with any ride modification, these must be approved by the manufacturer if they are still extant. The design and construction of these devices should be reviewed and vetted by a qualified engineer to ensure they meet industry standards.
Even the most well designed and carefully maintained coasters can fall prey to an unplanned stoppage and rider egress. Careful planning, coordination and regularly scheduled evacuation drills are key to ensuring riders are returned safely, if a little disappointed, to the ground.
Amusement Park Investigations
The amusement park experts at Robson Forensic investigate a broad range of issues involving operational procedures as well as the inspection and maintenance of equipment and machinery at fairs, carnivals, and other amusement facilities.
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Amusement Park Safety Expert
Dan has over 20 years of professional experience in the inspection and maintenance of amusement park rides. He applies his expertise to forensic investigations involving all aspects of amusement park rides: construction, operation and maintenance, fencing, surface conditions, and safety standards. Dan has extensive hands-on experience in all aspects of amusement park safety, including conducting safety audits at amusement parks across the US. He’s a member of the ASTM F24 Committee on Amusement Rides and Devices and holds several industry related certifications.