Supplement Feature - September 2020
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Waterpark Safety & Risk Management

Waterparks Aim to Stay Safely Afloat

By Chris Gelbach

Getting Ready to Open

As waterparks consider the pros and cons of reopening and the policies needed to do so safely, they also must deal with policies that can be quite different across areas that may be experiencing similar outbreaks.

"H2O waterpark in Dallas opened up and then said we're not going to continue on after June 30th because it's a regional hotspot and the city didn't think it was safe to proceed," said George Deinies, studio director of feasibility studies for the aquatics design and engineering firm Counsilman-Hunsaker. "Just 15 miles down the road, you have Six Flags Hurricane Harbor that's still open … So it's really just hit or miss, and a lot of it just depends upon the philosophy of city leadership and the waterpark leadership to say, 'Can we do this safely?' And if the answer is yes, then they're going to do it."

In a webinar he presented to members of the World Waterpark Association on safely reopening aquatic facilities for the season, Deines suggested numerous practices operators should look at incorporating, including but not limited to:

>> Changing deck layouts to ensure that people can stay at least six feet from people they don't live with.

>> Introducing one-way entrances and exits in spray pad areas.

>> Finding ways to eliminate bottlenecks in areas like the park entry, entrances and exits to lazy rivers, and tops of waterslides.

>> Keeping widths of walkways more than 6 feet and possibly 10 to 12 feet to allow people to pass one another while maintaining social distancing.

>> Considering a queue line and dispatch person for lazy rivers, and sanitizing tubes in between uses.

>> Masks for staff and plexiglass shields where it makes sense.

>> Eliminating shared objects for staff, from sunscreen pumps to water coolers to multiple lifeguards using the same chair or safety equipment in the same day.

>> Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces at least once daily.

>> Using CDC-approved disinfectants as instructed.

Communication Is Key

To successfully welcome guests, it is also helpful to communicate to visitors what the new policies will be. At Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay in Louisville, Ky., this includes online information detailing policies regarding face coverings, temperature checks, physical distancing and other measures, as well as publication of the park's full 12-page "COVID-19 Preparedness Plan." These are regularly updated as policies change.

"I've never been a fan of that adjective nimble, but we've had to change stuff every day," said Gaylee Gillim, general counsel for and one of the owners of Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay. "The governor issues executive orders and we get feedback from guests and team members and industry association republish guidelines and considerations for safety and risk management."

Gillim sees the ongoing communication as not only important for safety, but also for guest satisfaction. "There's nothing that makes people more aggravated than not finding out something until they get to the park," Gillim said.

Island H20 Live!, a waterpark in Kissimmee, Fla., likewise publishes its policies online. General Manager Jim Kunau noted that in-park signage and communication is also important, and something that is constantly evolving.

For instance, after several guests complained about having to wait in line for a temperature check and verbal screening before entering the park, the park put up several new signs, starting in the parking lot and ending at the security checkpoint, that people should expect to wait in line.

New signage throughout the park reminds people about everything from social distancing to handwashing. "I think on last count, including the laminated items, that we have put up over 250 new signs in the park because you have to tell people," Kunau said.

At Hurricane Bay, Gillim noted the addition of 100 hand sanitizer stations, disabling of the water fountains and modification of self-serve drink stations so people cannot touch the buttons. At the same time, some of the communication points out the need for guests to be responsible, as well. "I think more of the awareness is on the guest side and to maybe understand how important it is to wash your hands all the time," Gillim said.

One of the biggest surprises for Kunau has been the different concepts of social distancing that people have, and the need to constantly remind guests about it. "Frankly, you need to remind people on a regular basis," Kunau said. "So every 20 minutes or so, we have an announcement that comes on that reminds people to social distance and reminds people that we need your help. We can't do this on our own. You've got to help us. This is a partnership between our guests and park operations to be able to do this safely and effectively."

Because lifeguards need to focus on watching the water, Island H2O Live! relies on employees at the supervisor and manager level to converse with guests and act as ambassadors to enforce rules around social distancing and about wearing a mask in the park except for when on the slides or in the water.

At Hurricane Bay, Gillim noted that mask wearing is required in the pinch point of the park entrance, and in retail and indoor restaurant spaces, but that guests are not required to wear masks elsewhere in the park as long as they are able to keep a six-foot distance from others not in their party.

To enforce the rules, Hurricane Bay has hired social distancing ambassadors who are equipped with portable public address systems and are particularly focused on the wave pool, the waterpark's biggest attraction in terms of size.

"We do our absolute best to follow up with people. And if they are not following that encouragement, we then have our public safety officers follow up," Gillim said. "And we haven't had too much trouble with that because people want to stay in the park and enjoy themselves."