Disney Reveals Safety Guidelines
BY MICHELE HIMMELBERG
The Orange County Register
SANTA ANA, Calif. - (KRT) - The Walt Disney Co. lifted its shroud of fantasy Tuesday to reveal what it's doing to make amusement parks safe and secure.
Disney retreated from its typically secretive stance and drew attention to how it designs safety into rides, shares information company-wide to develop safety standards, and communicates with guests to promote safe behavior. The media event kicked off a three-part initiative for its domestic operations, and includes:
_ Disney's first "Report on Safety," which can be accessed online at www.disney.go.com/parksafety
_ An awareness campaign directed at consumers, employees and shareholders.
_ Appointment of Greg Hale, a vice president of engineering, to the new position of Chief Safety Officer.
"We believe that the safety of those who work and play at our resorts is our single most important responsibility," said Paul Pressler, chairman of Disney's parks and resorts.
While some praised Disney for taking a leadership role in safety, one ride-safety expert said it's a tardy response.
"Safety is nothing new," said Ken Martin, of KRM Consulting, in Richmond, Va. "Disney should have been doing this for the past 40 years."
Disney has faced increasing scrutiny after two high-profile accidents in the last four years. A Washington man died after being struck at the dock of the ship Columbia in December 1998, and park officials complicated the investigation by cleaning up the scene and interviewing witnesses before authorities arrived.
Disney's emergency response procedures were revamped to speed up dispatching of ambulances after 4-year-old Brandon Zucker was trapped under a car at the Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin ride in September 2000. He suffered brain damage.
Heightened interest in safety following those and other theme-park accidents was part of the reason Disney decided to be more open, said Leslie Goodman, a Disney senior vice president of communications. But Disney actually has a history of promoting safety, dating back to the 1950s and Jiminy Cricket's "I'm No Fool" children's guides on safety, she said.
At some point safety became a taboo public topic as Disney invited visitors to leave the real world behind and experience the fantasy of the parks. But with the public taking a greater interest in safety, the company thought it was time to lift the mystery about what they do.
"We wanted to use our storytelling tradition to speak to kids and parents about how they can make their vacations safe and fun," Goodman said.
Officials said they planned to issue the report even before Sept. 11. Since then, theme parks have been identified as a potential terrorist target.
"In an environment of heightened awareness and increased attention to safety and security," Pressler said, "especially following the events of Sept. 11, we think it is important for our guests to understand our programs and have the information they need to make safe choices for their families."
Tim O'Brien, senior editor of Amusement Business, a trade magazine, said Disney's campaign will "have a huge ripple effect in the industry."
KRM's Martin, a veteran ride-safety specialist, agreed that Disney taking the lead could encourage other parks and organizations to be more forthright about safety. But after reading the report, he said much of it was putting a good spin on a sensitive subject.
"I can think of six or so families that will think, `Why didn't they do this years ago?," Martin said. "If they design safety into the ride from the inception, why was Brandon Zucker injured?"
Disney's campaign also places responsibility on the guests to abide by the rules, and one of Hale's duties as chief safety officer will be to persuade visitors to become partners with Disney in pursuing safety. Hale will have global oversight for attraction safety, but he will not be in charge of security.
"Guests have an essential role to play," Hale said.
The first phase of the education campaign has already upgraded several measures, including signs that use international symbols, audio messages in English and Spanish, bright yellow ground markings and barrier gates in ride loading areas.
Children will be encouraged to participate with tools such as the Junior Explorer brochure, which color-codes rides to coordinate with a height measurement system. Already a pilot program at Disneyland, the measurement paddles will size up visitors once and give them a colored wrist band to gain entry to rides throughout the park.
Publishing the safety report on the World Wide Web will allow guests to read about safety technology such as "redundant brakes" and "anti-rollback mechanisms" that help stop vehicles. Visitors also will be able to compare their experiences with the policies Disney is promoting, such as food safety, the use of defibrillators for cardiac arrest and emergency-response procedures.
Several Web site visitors said Tuesday that the large color pictures require patience to read the report.
One of the more intriguing sections of the report, "Safety By Design," describes how an attraction is created, from the initial concept design - called "Blue Sky - to design, manufacturing, installation and testing, guest education, maintenance and industry compliance.
Researchers couldn't fit everything into the initial report, so they plan to release others that explain "new technologies and innovations" related to safety, Goodman said.
Much of the report explains standard operating procedures. But it also helps explain how the industry is regulated in California. One section informs guests that all registered rides are inspected both annually and when the state determines it necessary, such as after an accident. It explains that amusement park accidents involving serious injuries on rides must be reported to the Department of Occupational Safety and Health.
[ June 07, 2002, 11:22 PM: Message edited by: TiggerRPh ]