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Disney Updates Safety Policies

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Disneyland is systematically updating its safety and emergency procedures, including employee training on 911 calls, park officials said Friday.

The changes are in preparation for the February opening of its second park in Anaheim, Disney’s California Adventure, but also follow the adoption of a new state law on theme park safety and serious ride-related accidents.

Ride witnesses, injury victims and even an Anaheim Fire Department captain have recently criticized some of Disneyland’s emergency responses, including the speed and manner in which Disneyland staff handles accident scenes.

“We believe that the procedure we have now is very fast, and very effective and it gets help to an emergency as quickly as possible, which is our goal,” Ray Gomez, Disneyland spokesman, said.

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“Our employees have always been instructed to pick up the phone and call for help. We’ve just made it uniform and easier to do that, resortwide.”

In an emergency, employees are now instructed to immediately dial 911 from any Disney phone. The in-house phones are at every attraction, store and hotel.

The call is routed immediately to the park’s communications center as an emergency. Previously, employees could dial a general number for the center or 911.

The center has a direct line to police and fire departments. Disneyland managers in the center have been trained by Anaheim fire officials to obtain and relay vital information in an emergency.

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In addition, an Anaheim police officer is stationed two doors down the hall, a reform prompted by a fatal accident Christmas Eve 1998 on the Columbia sailing ship.

The current training and retraining tasks are massive: The park has about 10,000 employees and is in the process of hiring 8,500 new workers, many of whom will staff the new park.

“As we get ready to open and we get new people on board and we get ready to open new hotels, and shops and a theme park, it makes sense to get everybody on the same page.”

Park officials said the latest safety review is not in response to a Sept. 22 accident that critically injured Brandon Zucker, 4, of Canyon Country in northern Los Angeles County. He remains in a coma after falling out of the car on Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin and becoming pinned underneath the next car.

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Records show Disney employees in the communications center called 911 about five minutes after the ride stopped.

While Disneyland officials explained their policy on emergency calls, they declined comment on the accident on the Toontown attraction.

Anaheim Fire Department Chief Jeff Bowman also declined comment on Disney’s response in that case, but said Disneyland dispatchers relayed clear and detailed information about the accident.

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That was not the case in a separate accident July 31 on the Space Mountain roller coaster that injured nine people.

When that ride derailed, the Disneyland employee on duty at the communications center provided only sketchy details. That lack of information delayed the paramedics’ response, said Capt. Scott Roberts.

In a follow-up report, Roberts wrote that Disneyland employees tried to keep the incident as “stealthy” as possible and even congratulated each other at their ability to keep detailed information off the radio.

Two weeks later, Anaheim fire officials met with Disneyland employees in an effort to improve communications.

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When there are problems, or when Anaheim fire officials offer suggestions, Disneyland is “willing to not only entertain these concepts but to make them happen,” Bowman said.

“We have almost 1,000 calls there every year, and in almost all cases those 1,000 calls were handled impeccably,” Bowman said.

A year ago, Bowman said, Anaheim fire officials encouraged Disneyland to have its on-site medical staff treat minor injuries--bloody knees and smashed fingers.

“We told them, ‘Identify the calls you can deal with and those you can’t deal with and need to call us,’ ” Bowman said.

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When the investigation into the Roger Rabbit incident is complete, state officials will probably meet with Disneyland representatives to suggest any changes in procedures.

“Normally, we sit down with the other side and go over everything once the investigation is over,” said Richard Stephens, spokesman for the state division of Occupational Safety and Health.

After the Columbia accident, Disneyland began a parkwide overhaul of its operating procedures and ride manuals. In that accident, a tourist from Washington state died and his wife and a park employee were injured when a heavy metal mooring cleat ripped off the bow of the Columbia as it docked.

More recently, officials have reassessed policies on every ride and changed the name of the manuals from Standard Operating Procedures to Location Operating Guidelines.

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A ride operator and two senior trainers said Friday that many of their training procedures were instituted after the Columbia death.

On most attractions, the ride operator undergoes three days of training. At the conclusion, the operator must pass written and performance tests.

“The reviews are ongoing,” one trainer said. “They have nothing to do with Roger Rabbit.”

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In the past, fellow trainers offered informal information.

“Now we have a step-by-step procedure so that everyone has the same information,” another trainer said.

“It’s a standard sheet you get that you have to go step by step to teach them how to do stuff.”

The ride operator said employees run drills before and after work to practice what to do if a ride malfunctions.

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For minor injuries, operators ask the guests whether they would like first aid. For more serious injuries, the Disneyland employees are taught to call 911.

“A lot of it is common sense,” the ride operator said. “The problem is not everyone has common sense.”

* Contributing to this story was staff writer Jessica Garrison.


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