Category Archives: Operations

Does Your Facility Have a Lockdown Procedure?

Unfortunately, we are surrounded by reports of violence and acts of terrorism that feel too close to home every day. Operating facilities serve thousands of people every day. And while this is an incredible opportunity, there is also great responsibility associated with that. Is your facility prepared to handle an emergency situation? Is your staff ready to act if your facility becomes a target? These are important questions to ask yourself as a facility operator so you and your staff can have a positive effect on the outcome of emergency situations.

Training for the Worst to Perform the Best

Work with your local law enforcement and fire departments to determine the best course of action for different emergency scenarios within your facility. Each facility has its own unique challenges and opportunities in regards to patron safety, which should be taken into account when developing threat-specific action plans. Above all, guest and staff safety are obviously paramount. But in certain scenarios, that can be complicated. For instance, there are cases where your staff is responsible for the welfare of minors (swim lessons, day camp programming, etc.). In an emergency, is it your staff’s responsibility to usher children to safety before protecting themselves? Or should staff members prioritize their own safety? These are questions that local law enforcement can help you work through. It’s important to take input from local law enforcement, decision-makers in your organization, as well as from neighboring facilities to determine the best plan for your facility. Once plans have been developed: consistently practice them. Practice with your staff so often, that in the case of an emergency, the process is second nature to them. That way, when disaster strikes, you and your staff are ready to help.

Active Shooter

fbiIn most cases, active shooter situations unfold quickly, and law enforcement do not arrive on scene until after the incident is over. So it may be up to you and your staff to take action to help your patrons to safety. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), together with other partners, developed a short video outlining some of the choices when faced with an active shooter situation. While the video primarily focuses on the office building environment, the information and tips it provides can certainly be applied to your facility. Your response is certainly going to differ if you’re operating a facility with one small building, a large, open water park space, and 2,000 guests. But the core message remains the same. It’s important to know your options (Run, Hide, or Fight) and know when you might choose one option over another. Local law enforcement will assist you in making that decision, but most typically say it’s best to run and exit the park at any exit point. This means ensuring your staff is aware of all emergency exit gates. These gates should remain unlocked during business hours. Staff who are stationed at the top of water slides or other rides can hit the emergency stop and hide in the flume towards the middle until it is safe to exit.

Other Types of Disruption

There may be an instance where there is a violent eruption in your facility with a specific target in mind, such as a fight or domestic disturbance. If your management has established a good presence on-deck, and your staff consistently speaks with customers, you’re more likely to spot these incidents before they escalate. But even with the best managers, disturbances happen. Train staff to see these problems before they arise, separate individuals, and take statements in an area where all parties are safe. After the problem has been resolved, make sure your staff knows how to resume normal operations, and relocate individuals to a different area of the facility as necessary.

Nearby Event

Sometimes, the danger may not even be at your facility, but rather in the neighboring area. This can still affect your operations. Slide towers, for instance, are high points visible from far away. If there is danger outside your facility, youKCMO Waterslide1 may need to evacuate slide towers or other tall attractions to ensure staff and guests are safe. In these situations, it is not uncommon for your staff to be the first to notice the need to lockdown the facility. Law enforcement are busy protecting the immediate scene of the danger and may not have time to warn you of some impending danger. Close off any areas where someone may be in danger and take care to move them to a safe location. Recently, a facility in Oregon implemented their training and prepared for an active shooter situation when a shooting happened at an adjacent park. Because they had been trained to properly respond to nearby emergencies, they were ready to take action and save lives.

Prepare for After

One thing that all emergencies have in common is that at some point, they will end. Make sure that you have a process for ensuring your staff is safe and accounted for. Select a meeting place offsite for those who are able to flee the scene. Prepare an emergency bag (or several) located at facility exits for someone (usually management) to grab on the way out. This bag should include staff names, emergency contact information, photos of staff members, and a current schedule. These tools will allow you to assess who is missing, who to contact in case someone is injured, and help law enforcement identify wounded who may still be in the facility. Violent incidents will have psychological and emotional impacts on staff. Make sure there is a debriefing process post-incident with professional counselors to ensure staff are mentally healthy and able to continue to work. As part of this plan, determine the time frame when it might be best to re-open the facility and allow those involved to return to work.

Every situation will be different and require a different response. But by putting the tools and training in place to effectively prepare staff for a violent incident, you increase the probability that everyone will remain safe and unharmed.

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What Parents Want From a Water Park

The modern family is very busy and sometimes has limited family fun time. Because of this, it’s important for family outings to allow the entire family to be able to have fun. Water parks certainly fall under this category, as kids and adults alike enjoy spending time cooling off in the water. But there are a lot of things that can make visiting a water park difficult for parents.

First of all, making the trip to the water park requires a bit more preparation. If you have younger children, it’s expected that you’re going to have to pack some extra items anywhere you go, but this is especially true when visiting a water park. Parents have to remember to pack an extra supply of sunscreen, beach towels, dry clothes, and much more just to be prepared. Additionally, it can be a pain to have to continuously return to your belongings throughout the day to re-apply sunscreen, dry off, etc. You can sit and watch your belongings the entire day, but then you miss actually experiencing the park with your family. One potential solution that we are seeing more and more is water parks that offer free sunscreen at stations strategically located throughout the park. Not reapplying sunscreen on your children can make for several painful days for everyone if your kids get sunburn. More sunscreen stations would allow you to pack less, and spend more time with your family without worry.

Additionally, most dry parks have areas with various activities and rides for family members of all ages to enjoy, but that isn’t always the case when visiting a water park. There is usually a zero depth entry with an interactive play feature for younger kids. The play feature might have a small slide or two, water sprays, and maybe a water gun or cannon to Bellaire (29)play with. Counsilman-Hunsaker also typically sees a water feature that dumps or sprays water on kids below in this zero depth entry area. These features are great for really young children, but older kids might not pay them any attention.

A lazy river can be a great way to spend some one-on-one time with your kids, but they are typically too deep for smaller kids to enjoy. Counsilman-Hunsaker hopes to see more water parks offer shorter, more shallow lazy rivers with some smaller inner tubes for younger kids to feel more comfortable riding on.

Kids of all ages are drawn to water slides and wave pools. But these features tend to have height requirements, meaning younger kids aren’t able to join in on the fun.

Because each area of a water park is meant for a specific age range, it can be difficult for larger families to all spend time together at water parks. Additionally, the selection of attractions can be rather limited for middle-aged children–those who aren’t toddlers, but are still too small for larger attractions. Parents want new attractions for this age group, as well as more family slides and rides, allowing everyone to be included in the experience.

Families want to visit water parks because they offer a fun experience for every member of the family. But they can be taxing on parents with kids of different ages. With that being said, more and more we are beginning to see water parks make changes and adapt to better accommodate families and their needs to make water parks a recreation destination for everyone.

Accommodating Individuals with Special Needs

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the accommodations associated with it, are quickly-evolving topics in the aquatic and theme park industries. How do we best accommodate these guests and make their experience equal to those without a disability? Are we required to provide immediate access to rides upon arrival, or is it acceptable for guests to wait in line the same amount of time as everyone else? What procedure is there if an individual’s disability makes it more difficult to wait in line? Every guest and their required accommodations are different. The most important thing to remember is that we must provide every reasonable accommodation we can to ensure an equal, enjoyable experience.

One of the most recent documented cases with regards to line or attraction policies is the A.L. v. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc. case. A guest with an Autism Spectrum Disorder claimed he was unable to wait in line due to his disability and that he was not accommodated 74f749912294748c50ef060690a722caproperly through immediate access to the rides. The park had recently changed their policy from immediate access to a program requesting guests to register and receive cards granting appointment times to access attractions. The program would allow guests to wait ten minutes less than those in the general waiting line. In addition to the reduced wait time, depending on the disability, staff could use their discretion to grant a certain number of “on-demand, immediate access” passes to guests, which allowed them to get on rides between their appointment times instantly. In this particular case, the judge ruled that because the guest had the “on-demand, immediate access” passes, in conjunction with the appointment times, he was able to essentially walk onto all attractions with only a ten-minute wait, a time period he had been able to wait comfortably during previous visits.

While not all parks are able to provide such detailed, well-oiled programs like Disney, it is important to determine the appropriate access program for your facility before any issues arise. More and more, we are seeing smaller parks provide unlimited immediate access passes to their guests with disabilities. The passes tend be good for the guest needing the accommodation, as well as one other individual (typically a caregiver), rather than the entire party the guest is with. One of the most important aspects of complying with the ADA is proper training for your ride operations and guest relations staff. Your staff should not inquire about any disability or diagnosis, but rather, what accommodations an individual’s disability requires. This provides guest relations staff with the only information they need to properly accommodate the guest. Ride operators need to be familiar with the possible accommodations the park will provide in order to incorporate the accommodation with as little disruption to typical operations as possible. While guests without a need for special accommodations may become upset due to increased waiting times, it is still your duty, and the duty of your staff, to find reasonable accommodations for your guests. Overall, it is important to have these discussions with your management team so you can develop a program that best suits your facility and guests, providing an equal experience for all.

Choosing the Right Pricing Policy for Your Facility

Pricing is determined by a variety of different factors, including facility size and amenities, local socioeconomics, cost recovery goals, neighboring competition, and political pressure. Often, there are many people and factors involved in determining pricing, but there are a few basic rules that most facilities follow.

Service vs Sustainability

Each facility is unique in the overall goal it is attempting to achieve. Many municipal facilities are funded and operated for the purpose of providing an invaluable service to the community. Their goal is to serve as many residents as possible and typically subsidize 40-80% of their operations in order to keep the admission fee affordable for members of the community. Whether a facility is focused on service or sustainability is often dependent on the socioeconomic climate in which it is located.  Facilities in lower income neighborhoods are typically there to provide low-cost service.  For this type of facility, pricing is usually driven by history and the governing political body. Other facilities operate more as an enterprise fund, in which cost recovery is the overarching goal.  Fees are typically higher in order to account for the expenses associated with offering programming or an aquatic facility in general. For this approach, you will need to calculate what your expenses are for each program or service offered. Based on attendance for that particular offering, generate a price that will ensure you are covering your expenses. Determine your overarching fiscal goal for the facility first, before beginning to design your programming and amenities.

How to Determine Your Costs

If you are interested in calculating cost recovery, gather all the financial data available to you to account for all programs and expenses. Calculate your utility costs by season, as most of your programming will be seasonal and can vary dramatically for an aquatics center. Next, separate each of your programs and determine how many hours you spend on labor for each position type for that type of programming. For example, when calculating costs for group swim lessons, be sure that, in addition to the instructor’s teaching time, you include their preparation time, administration time spent on marketing and organizing classes, deck lifeguard time, and time spent training and evaluating the instructors.  Next, add in the equipment costs, such as swim lesson toys, kickboards, pull buoys, end of session treats and report cards. Divide this number by the number of group swim lesson sessions offered during the season. After that, calculate what your maximum attendance could be during the session if every spot was full. This will rarely be the case; so, to be conservative, assume about 70% capacity. Divide your number by that 70% number and you will understand how much you need to charge just to recover program costs for one child in a group lesson for a session. Adding in utility costs is a bit trickier and can be the part where the process becomes more of an art than a science. A simple way to incorporate utilities into your analysis is to take the programmable hours of the pool and divide the total utility costs by the number of programmable hours. Then use that number, multiply it with the number of swim lesson hours, and include that in the program cost calculation.

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Season Pass Pricing

When developing pricing for your season pass, it is easy to overthink the process since your costs can vary significantly depending on how often the pass is used. Look to your records to determine how often the average season pass holder visits your facility in a season. Use that number and multiply it by your admission price to determine proper pricing. For example, if your admission price is $4 and the average season pass holder visits one time per week with a 12-week season, you would price the pass at $48 per person. This is where the art comes into the scenario. If your admission is $7 and the average season pass holder visits two times per week for a 12-week season, you will not want to price your pass at $168. It is highly unlikely that all visitors will be willing to pay that much, and will instead just opt for daily admission. Be aware of pricing yourself out of the market and make smart adjustments.

Why Are You Special?

Depending on your location, there may be neighboring water park or aquatic facility acting as a competitor with similar services. The key determining factor in where customers choose to spend their money may be admission price. Research your area competition to ensure you are charging a fair rate. There may be a situation where your competition is focused on providing a service for the community. In that case, look at what makes your facility unique and market how your facility is worth more than other facilities for that reason. If customers feel there will be better value at your facility, regardless of the reason, they will be more likely to pay the higher admission price.

Determining pricing for your facility can make or break the viability of your programs and overall facility. Be sure to define your overarching fiscal goals in relation to the service you are providing to your community when determining pricing. Research how much it costs to truly administer your programs successfully and then select a fee that matches that cost.

Training Pool Management

It’s summer time, and you know what that means: training, training, training! Many of us at Counsilman-Hunsaker are former Aquatics Managers, and in our experience, we found ourselves most concerned with training lifeguards and guest services team members. Ensuring that these often seasonal staff members received proper training was always a primary focus. You tend to assume that head lifeguards, pool managers, and supervisors have more experience, know what they are doing, and have all arrived ready to work. However, this is not always the case.

Supervisors who are not properly trained can cause more of a headache for Aquatics Managers than one might think. Because they have a wider range of responsibilities than most other pool staff members, they tend to have more complex questions and requests that can prevent you from fulfilling your own responsibilities. After spending significant portions of our summer days answering questions from supervisors regarding things they should have already known, we realized there had to be a better way.

This involves listening to your staff and paying close attention to the types of questions they ask. Consider even writing down every question you receive from your management staff over the course of a summer. Use this information to determine the steps necessary to better train your staff. For instance, you could spend your off-season developing a training curriculum that addresses any questions or concerns received from pool staff. This ensures your future staff will have the answers to common questions. You could even consider providing a physical ‘frequently asked questions document’ to your staff so they won’t have to pull you from your responsibilities to answer standard questions.

These frequently asked questions can also serve as the foundation of a large-scale team manual that outlines expectations in regards to performance, behaviors, policies and procedures. Requiring your staff to read the manual as part of training provides supervisors with the knowledge they need to effectively run a safe, clean, friendly and fun aquatic facility. Another option is to review the manual with your staff in a presentation format. From here, the possibilities are endless. The manual can serve as inspiration for a weekend training session to build camaraderie and excitement within your management team. Here, you could go more in-depth and discuss big picture topics like leadership, risk management, safety and communication. 

While these options all require additional work on your part, it ultimately saves you time during operational hours. In our experience, we had our best summers after implementing this type of structured training. The staff is more competent and confident, and it was nothing but smooth sailing. The most important step to helping prepare your management staff is listening to their questions and concerns, and ensuring you are able to efficiently address them.