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by Ken Pellman (archives)
August 22, 2001
This month Ken looks at the emotional subject of theme park safety.

Are theme parks death traps? Are they run by callous people who care little about public safety? Has the push for bigger thrills gone too far? Did you know that you are the one with the most control over your own safety in a theme park?

The Future of Theme Park Warning Signs?
You walk through your favorite theme park ride and you notice some changes. There are small signs everywhere that catch your eye.

Do not climb this tree.

Caution: Ground hard.

Warning: Curb!

Danger: Ramming person in front of you repeatedly with stroller may result in altercations.

Smoking Area - Notice warning on cigarette packaging.

Warning: Yellow arches ahead!

The churro cart you pass has a sign that says:

Failing to chew food properly before swallowing may result in choking.

Finally, reach the entrance to your favorite ride and you notice a big sign in at least a dozen languages, Braille, an audio recording of the text in two dozen languages, and a cast member interpreting the sign into American Sign Language. The text of the sign, in English, reads:

>>>DANGER - WARNING - CAUTION<<<

In this attraction, the normal conditions of physics are still in effect, including, but not limited to, inertia, entropy, and gravity.

This ride is a high-speed turbulent, bumpy potential death machine that may shake you like a rag doll with sharp drops, sudden turns, spins, and inversions, and also features heights, darkness, cutesy music, extremely loud noises, special effects, hard walls, hard flooring, moving parts, flashing and strobing lights, potential allergens, and a shop filled with cheaply made but overpriced trinkets at the end.

Here’s a list of all of the people who have developed injuries or have died while or within ten years of riding this attraction, even if this attraction couldn’t possibly have been a contributing factor:

Please keep your hands, arms, feet, legs, and any other part of your body or belongings inside the vehicle, and remain seated with your behind firmly planted in the seat at all times until you are told to disembark by a certified state official presenting you with a court order. Do not hold your breath, hyperventilate, or jerk your head in a violent manner. Continue to breathe normally. If you have an asthma attack, please use your inhaler. Do not ride if intoxicated or under the influence of any controlled or illegal substances, have heart, neck, or back conditions, suffer from motion sickness, are pregnant, or have any other preexisting conditions that could be aggravated by this attraction.

Supervise your children (gee, what a concept).

Should anything happen to you, during or after your experience on this attraction:

1. It will immediately be publicized to the entire park, as well as all news media outlets, who will be given unrestricted access to film you, any medical procedures being administered to you, and complete, unfettered access to our facilities.

2. Your personal lawyer and spokesperson will be immediately notified. If you do not already retain the services of such people, and can’t afford them, a lawyer and a spokesperson will be appointed to you at no cost to you.

Registered nurses and surgeons are standing by in our fully equipped, on-site emergency medical facility to attend to you.

By order of the U.S. Department of Amusement Park Safety, prepare to be strapped in with a seatbelt, belts around your legs, and belts around your arms. You will be further secured with a lap bar and confined in a cage.

A Federal officer will verify that you are properly wearing the required helmet, kneepads, elbow pads, safety goggles, and flame-retardant suit.

Please have your medical records and complete medical history ready, a long with the report regarding your complete physical, including CAT, ready to present to the host and hostess to verify that you are able to experience this attraction.

The Recent Focus on Theme Park Safety in the Major Media
Okay, so I was being a tad silly. But I think there has been over-coverage lately by major media outlets on injuries, both major and minor, sustained at theme parks.

It goes back to Christmas Eve, 1998 when a freak accident took place at the dock in Frontierland in Disneyland Park, where the Mark Twain and the Columbia pick up and unload passengers. A rope pulled an eight pound metal cleat from the side of the Columbia, a replica of an early American sailing ship. The result was that one male guest received fatal head injuries, his wife received serious head injuries, and a Disneyland cast member received serious injuries to her leg and foot. Other guests and cast members suffered emotionally.

This accident was arguably the darkest moment in the history of the Disneyland Resort, as it has been the only fatality in forty-six years of operation in which the victim was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing, and was killed through no fault of his own.

Ever since then, theme park accidents and injuries have received increased attention in the news media, whether or not they are mainly the fault of the guest. Even some small injuries that could have happened walking down a public street have made it to major newspapers.

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