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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Great America Wave Pool - Discussing the Issues & Problems

Great America (formerly known as Great America (owned by Marriott) and Paramount's Great America (owned by Paramount studios)) recently was the scene of a death of a four year old male that drowned in the wave pool at the "Boomerang Bay" section of the theme park.

Yet, while this tragic event is horrible to hear, and will attract negative attention to the theme park for a long time, the theme park has its share of accidents with deadly results. One in particular was in 1998 on the popular "Top Gun" inverted roller coaster attraction where a man intentionally went over a fence to retrieve an item he dropped. The man was killed instantly when the incoming train with dangling feet (due to the inverted trains), was kicked in the head at a high rate of speed and impact.

With the pool accident, it is unfortunate that someone that young had to die, yet there is heavy criticism from the general public, as well as me (Mr. Complaint Department) that the responsibility lies within the parent. Let's take a look at what happened.

The child is about 4 ft. tall, and about six lifeguards were on duty at the pool. The mother was concerned that she couldn't find the son and asked the daughter to look for the child. The child was found unconscious in the shallow end of the wave pool and the girl screamed for help from the lifeguards. The lifeguards responded, provided CPR, got the EMTs, and transported the child to the hospital. The medics were unsuccessful to resuscitate the child and were declared dead at the hospital.

What the big outcry in this incident is not the park's policy on lifeguards on-duty, but that the parent was irresponsible by not directly supervising the child in the pool. The San Francisco Chronicle quotes: "Carlos was found unconscious in the wave pool shortly before 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. His mother, Yolanda Flores, and sister were nearby but not with him."

(This author intentionally put the topic in question in italics and put in bold the key word)

In this blogger's opinion, "NEARBY" does not mean direct supervision by being next to the child. An interesting thing to think about is, will the parent have a decent legal claim to this accident, and that the parent already admitted the fact that she was not directly supervising the child (parental neglect)?

Yes, it is tragic that someone had to die at a wave pool, but lets use an analogy and think of different locations where no direct parental supervision will cause high risk of injury or death to a child:

  1. Parent and young child at a BART station, and parent is not directly supervising child at station. Potential harm to child: Hit by train, falls on train tracks, touches high voltage electric third rail.
  2. Same scenario as above, but at a Caltrain station. Potential harm: Hit by high speed Baby Bullet train, and plays on tracks.
  3. Child chasing a soccer ball that fell out of his/her hands and ran loose on a busy street. Parent not paying attention to child, therefore is not "directly" supervising child. Potential harm: Hit by speeding vehicle.

By not being in direct supervision ("nearby" or not even paying attention) is a much bigger risk than being in direct supervision. In many cases, being "nearby" will more than likely result in no major incident happening, but the "what if" comes into question. The "what if" factor would then have a parent or appropriate adult supervising a child is much better than just being "nearby" and only paying-half attention.

A big question to ask is, should parents directly supervise young children at the pool? I believe that it is necessary for young children, child non-swimmers, and child weak swimmers should be supervised by their parents and wear life vests. For young adults and adults that are below a certain height, have limited swimming abilities, or no swimming skills, these people should be required to wear life vests, and participate in the "buddy" program.

I think the best way to fix the problem is that in order to be allowed to participate in the water park is to test them by providing a small length and shallow pool to test people at their swimming skills. Only people that wear a special wristband can be allowed to use the water park facilities and each wristband has a certain color that allows access to certain attractions. If a person is "disqualified" to use a certain attraction, then admission to the attraction requires use of a life vest and direct supervision by a qualified wristbanded adult. In order to make it speedy, people that have passed a qualified swimming program that is typically supported by someone like the Red Cross with a card that proves their skills would automatically receive the proper wristband to their age and skills. Not participating in a test will automatically give the person the lowest grade on the wristband system. By wearing no wristband will automatically get the person in trouble and could be potentially ejected from the park. If theme parks and airports can do metal detector screenings for contraband with a short wait, I think a simple swim test with a similar wait time period can assure that there will be less of a liability to operate water themed attractions at a theme park.

Here's an easy color scheme to ID skills of swimmers:

For children:
RED - Child, no swimming skills, requires life vest and requires direct supervision at all times.
RED & YELLOW striped - Child, some swimming skills, requires direct supervision at all times, and disqualified from certain attractions unless if wearing life vest.
RED & GREEN striped - Child, has swimming skills, no life vest required (but may be recommended by parent's request), but requires direct supervision at all times.

Note: The color RED identifies at the person is a child, and always requires supervision (no exceptions).

For teenagers, young adults, and adults:
BLACK - Adult or young adult, no swimming skills, life vest required. Also includes adults of a very short stature and requires a life vest at all times. Having a skilled swimmer buddy is highly recommended.
YELLOW - Adult or young adult, some swimming skills, but disqualified from certain attractions unless if vest is worn. Having a skilled swimmer buddy is suggested.
GREEN - Adult or young adult, qualified swimming skills, no life vest necessary.

Note: The color RED is never used for teens, young adults, and adults to distinguish them as the proper age to be in this group. That is why the color BLACK is used as the lowest ranking instead of RED.

Currently, Great America's management is requiring vests for children, and I think it is a great idea to start-off with. But, I also think that my color wristband idea may also help in sorting out the young vs. old swimmers, and the weak vs. strong swimmers. For the wave pool, restricting certain areas of the pool to certain color wristbands may help in saving lives.

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