Supplement Feature - October 2017
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Thrills & Spills

Risk Management for Waterparks & Splash Parks

By Deborah L. Vence

Risk Management

Waterpark operators need to make sure they have risk management practices in place in order to reduce injuries or accidents.

Ensuring that your slides and attractions are maintained and operated in a safe manner every operating hour is critical and takes commitment.

At opening and closing, facilities should employ "… a daily checklist for ops and maintenance where potential safety issues are identified and immediately corrected (or the attraction is not operated until the issue is resolved)," Friscia said. "Maintaining proper water level and flow per manufacturer specification (and having the daily mechanisms to monitor) is an area that gets lost sometimes as facilities mature. Commit to a preventive maintenance program and an annual infrastructure reinvestment plan (including mechanical room automation and innovation upgrades)."

Also, he said, develop and implement daily, monthly and annual processes to cover each critical aspect: guest areas (attractions, pools, slides, towers), daily mechanical and maintenance, preventive maintenance and a re-investment plan.

Gonzales said that when it comes to risk management practices, there is a philosophy that less is more.

"Less rules means pool operators can focus on those high-priority safety items rather than a laundry list of items that all start with 'NO.' It's about enforcement," she said.

She's learned over time, too, that the fewer inputs, the better the outcome.

"Today, there's a whole lot that's coming at you: e-mail, Facebook, home life, work life, and there is a lot of input," she said. "Less is more. What are the most important rules that I need to enforce? Whittle that down to five. Enforce those five."

In addition, "Operators of pools should invest in good management practices by enforcing pragmatic rules in a constructive way. This way kids still have fun and learn to respect themselves and others," she added.

For example, when Gonzales worked for Great Wolf Resorts between 2006 and 2013, overseeing 13 waterparks and overall resort safety and maintenance and engineering, she said one thing that was done was to ensure that the executives were endorsing safety.

"It was fundamental to our program, getting the C-suite into the room," she said. "Get your general manager and key manager and talk about safety or talk with CFOs, CEOs and talk about safety, alignment of what and how they see safety. Once you get that, everything is easy. There's no opposition. That really helped us, to feel really empowered.

"When we first launched our safety department and programs we got executive buy-in by doing a series of facilitated sessions with our C-suite, so they were on the same page from our safety priority, not just in what we said but in what we did, financial commitment to safety, approach in dealing with incidents that occurred at the resorts, and in the consistent internal and external messaging related to safety," she explained.

Many programs were implemented that really made a difference.

"Near the end of my time there, we launched a culture campaign to deliver our message of safety internally. It was called S.A.F.E. (Safety Always For Everyone). We had video of our executives in casual settings where they talked about what safety meant to them," she said.

Also, Gonzales said, a roadshow was done to all of the resorts with education sessions, internal marketing collateral and swag to help deliver the message.

"We wanted our team to see that they are each important in the big picture of the company and in the everyday interactions as 'pack members' (employees) with our guests to keep Great Wolf S.A.F.E. Our general managers also kept safety top of mind and they were directly measured on safety," she said, "not just on guest service scores and financial performance. Safety was one of the pillars of performance for Great Wolf."

What's more, it's important to understand how people behave.

"Sometimes we go and look at, these are the rules that everybody else uses," Gonzales said, and it's important to take into account "… your own unique environment, behavior of guests—understanding the unique nature of a unique facility," adding that it's also important to prioritize.

"Sometimes people take care of common risks, but don't prioritize risk. Let's go through each property, for what their biggest risks are," she added. "It is [about] understanding your business, understanding behaviors and understanding your unique risk, so you are not doing everything."

In another example, at Kalahari Resorts in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., certified pool operators test the water four times a day.

"If any test reading (that might be a reading outside of the normal levels we operate at) requires shutdown, we will close the pool or spa and make corrections and open the pool or spa back up," said Kimberly Koyle, waterpark maintenance manager at Kalahari and NSPF instructor.