Guest Column - January/February 2002
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Adventure Vendors on Your Property

Your risk or theirs?

By Wayne L. Mitchell

Parasailing at Walt Disney World
in Orlando, Fla.

Once you have invested your heart and soul (and money and reputation) into your facility—whether it be a park, athletic facility, amusement park, waterpark, playground, school, resort, campground or recreational retreat—you have addressed most of the risks and taken corrective action to make it as safe as possible for your guests.

Of course, the more successful and attractive you make your facility, the more requests you will receive from outside entrepreneurs to rent, borrow and/or share your property. Activities such as balloon rides, transient carnival rides, exhibitions, tournaments, jet-ski operations, parasailing, swim meets, art shows, fireworks displays, boat shows, bungee jumping, and yes, even human slingshots will be solicited to you to use your reputation, property and facility. Special events such as festivals, holiday celebrations, commemorations, grand openings, visiting dignitaries, promotions and homecoming galas also attract these adventure promoters.

Sounds great…

All you have to do is put up your property, facilities, employees, reputation and life's work, and they will pay you a percentage of whatever they take in. Of course, not all reputable vendors will abuse your generosity and most may not even realize what they are asking of you. After all, they have done tons of shows, and no one ever got hurt. The owner profited, the guests enjoyed themselves and experienced a fabulous show, and everyone was happy.


One mishap can cost you your life's work, your reputation and your business. All life is a risk, and without realizing it, we are constantly evaluating risks in every action we take. Whether it be driving to work, going to church, going to school. Once the risk is considered, we take actions to reduce the consequences or the possibility of occurrence.

Tubing at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

When presented with that opportunity of opportunities, the great manager considers the following challenges:

  • Providing for the safety of guests
  • Providing for the safety of employees
  • Providing for crowd control
  • Providing for the safety of the facility
  • Providing for unexpected events (weather, demonstrations, traffic control, higher than expected turnout)
  • Providing for comfort of guests and parking
Managing the risks

Before you agree to take on (and host) a special event or adventure vendor, make sure you go over all the elements. Here are some helpful steps to follow:

  1. Identify the hazards and evaluate the risks to guests, employees and property. Conduct a joint walk through with your management team. Evaluating the risk involves assessing the possibilities of frequency and severity.
  2. After identifying the hazards, plan a flow pattern or guarding system around the hazards.
  3. Identify all new hazards that could be created by the anticipated program/venue and work with the vendor to protect guests and employees.
  4. When creating the "Plan," think things through:
Risky Businesses

When you permit special events and activities, like the following, to take place on your property, your routine is no longer in place, and all bets are off.

Make sure you are prepared.

Balloon rides
Jet skiing
Bungee jumping
Portable carnivals
Marathons, running races, triathlons
Bicycle races
Swim meets
Exhibition matches
Movie shoots
Auto races
Fireworks displays
Art shows
Boat Shows
Air shows
Commercial photography sessions
  • Parking, crowd control, and entries and exits
  • Moving people expeditiously
  • If lines can be expected, consider entertaining them while they wait in lines.
  • Evaluate needs for adequate staffing.
  • Employee training and assuring that your employees understand the plan
  • Provide a sneak preview for news media. They can help you or hurt you.
  • Coordinate with local law enforcement. Also check with local laws and code enforcement.
  • Involve your legal people (attorney) to deal with vendor contracts and enforcement of contracts.
  • Require adequate liability and worker's comp insurance coverage. Get copies of certificates of insurance.
  • Your insurance carrier can provide you with good hazard analysis of the activities planned.
  • Assure that all aspects of your management team are on the same page.
  • Check weather prospects at least a week out, three days and daily until completed. Provide for foul weather alternatives. A good foul weather plan can make you a hero. Absence of a plan will make you a goat.
  • Keep attuned to the political pulse of community as well as any controversial issues and work with the media. Stay away from controversial issues.
Controlling your risks with high-risk venues

There may be some activities that you or others in your organization just "must have." Here are some tips that may help you reduce your exposure when you are forced to stray beyond what your 6th sense advises. The following points are recommendations for reducing your risk and controlling your losses when you alter your routine operating business.

  • Call your insurance carrier and ask for their advice on
    a. How much insurance to require of the outside contractor?
    b. Will our insurance cover any, all or which losses?
    c. What kind of safety requirements should we include in our contracts?
  • Call your attorneys to work up contracts or at least proof the contractor's contract and determine what kind of performance bond should be required.
  • Hold the outside contractor's feet to the fire on ALL aspects of the contract. Remember, you cannot insure against bad publicity.
  • Apprise your management team of all aspects of the contract and what they can expect.
  • Be prepared to shut them down at the first sign of a discrepancy in the contract performance.
  • Be reasonable, but don't let them call all the shots. It's your property and business, and you can be sued also.

Most adventure promoters have been around enough that they know what will be expected of them. If you have any questions about their operations.

  1. Ask for references and follow up.
  2. There are ASTM and ANSI standards on many manufactured products and services. Get the standard for that particular venue.
  3. If it pertains to water, the U.S. Coast Guard is the Consumer Product Safety Commission of the waters. "Boat US" and "The National Safe Boating Council" are also up on most aquatic adventure sports (for example, jet skiing).
  4. The National Safety Council can also be used as a referral agency to lead you in the direction of agencies "in the know" on a variety of adventure sports. You are not alone and help is available. Remember, you do not have to know everything if you have access to those who do.

But do your homework.

Wayne Mitchell recently retired as senior safety administrator for Walt Disney World Safety Department after 30 years of service with prime responsibilities for guest and employee safety for all Disney recreation venues. He serves on several ASTM playground committees, particularly ASTM F-1487 and ASTM F-1536. He has also had input into the new NSPI/ANSI Standards WWA1 and WWA-9 for swimming pools and waterparks. He has served as chairman of the community Safety Division of the National Safety Council and has served on the National Safety Council's Board of Directors for the last 10 years. He is currently a recreation safety and risk management consultant and is dedicated to making our recreation areas safe for "kids of all ages." He can be reached by e-mail at