by Danny Miller
By special request, I have come back to my Employee Insider blog series to explain a little bit about evacuations and what causes them. I will also talk about how evacuations are handled and what the process is at the rides that I worked at while at Dorney Park. To refresh, I have worked on Talon, Possessed, Monster, and Zephyr (our oldest train) regularly.
Generally speaking, evacuations are pretty rare, and I always thought that the general public’s perception is that they are a fairly regular occurrence. They are not. In fact, in my two years working at Dorney, I could probably count on one hand how many times one of my rides needed to be evacuated. I was asked specifically to talk about fires in the park, and I personally have never experienced a fire at a park, as an employee or as a guest. There are however, procedures that need to be followed.
As you could guess, the first priority is the safety of the guests and employees in the immediate area of a fire. All employees are trained in fire safety during their orientation, and periodically, various higher-ups give employees written, verbal, and even undercover observation audits. This ensures that employees not only are trained properly, but also that they retain the knowledge they are given during training.
All rides, buildings, and eating areas are equipped with all-purpose fire extinguishers in case of a fire. As mentioned, all employees are trained on the proper operation of fire extinguishers. This ensures that all employees are in a position to put out any type of fire at any given time. In the event of a fire, guests are evacuated from the immediate area, and all employees at the work location(s) affected aid in calling all emergency personal, including the Cetronia Fire Department (less than a mile away), and first-aid in case any guests or employees require medical attention.
Ride evacuations are a different story. The goal of any and all ride stoppages is that guests exit the ride as they normally would under regular operations, but sometimes this is not practical or possible. On Talon, riders may be evacuated from several places. Inside the station is not technically considered an evacuation if the entire train is in the station, however there are cases where the train may be stopped by a ride error (see previous parts of blog series) with part of the train outside the station. Other spots include the lift hill and the two brake runs.
The long, storage brake run is a common stopping place. A long, narrow walkway connects this brake run to the station via the short brake run just before the station. If the train is stopped in either of these spots, step stools are used to allow guests to safely step from their seat to the catwalk. The guests are then taken to the station and basic information is recorded in order to ensure no medical attention is needed, and that they may be compensated for the inconvenience.
If the train is stopped on the lift, it is much less likely that they will be evacuated due to the difficulty involved with evacuating guests from the incline. The same stools are used, and guests can eventually reach the station and be interviewed as before. On rides like Steel Force and Thunderhawk, this process is considerably easier due to the floor of a train being present. I have never seen an evacuation on Hydra, but I do believe a special setup is present to allow guests to move from the train to the stairs in the event of a lift evacuation. In all of these cases, special tools are required to manually unlock the harnesses. Once a single harness is unlocked, all guests must exit the train safely prior to the ride moving again.
Possessed has a very simple set of procedures. Possessed will only stop in the station or the launch area between the station and the front spike. If the train is stopped in the launch area, maintenance is usually very quick to bring the train back to the station so that guests may exit normally. If guests need to be evacuated from the launch area, stools are used to give guests a safe height from their seat to the ground. It is then just a short walk to the station where their information is taken.
Zephyr, the park’s train from the 1930’s, perhaps has the most unusual evacuation process. In the extremely rare event that the train stops on the course, the operator is required to alert guests of the reason for stoppage, and instruct them to remain in the train. Depending on the location, Possesed, Stinger or Revolution is the closest ride. The phone at the closest ride is used to call in the ride stoppage and to request assistance. The operator then returns to the train and waits with the guests until operations and maintenance reach the train.
In an extremely rare case, the train may not be able to be restarted in a reasonable amount of time, and guests may be asked to walk from the train back to the station to have their information taken. The reason this is not done immediately is to attempt to allow riders to disembark from the ride as standard operating procedures describes. The other main reason is that there are several banks and bridges near or over the creek that the train parallels, which poses a safety hazard to the guests needing evacuation.
Some rides of course, cannot be evacuated from. For example, several flat rides that do not allow all cars to be loaded at one time (Monster, Ferris Wheel), tower rides like Dominator, and even Stinger, which does not have evacuation stairs, need to be operated to some degree in order to allow evacuations. Again, the most important thing is that the goal of an evacuation is not to evacuate at all, and to allow guests to exit the ride in a normal fashion. This explains why ride evacuations are so rare.
I hope this gives you a bit of insight as to why rides may or may not be evacuated, and the process that needs to be considered at each ride when deciding whether or not to evacuate riders. If you have more questions, please post comments or message me directly and I will be glad to answer them.