Insuring ride risk in the amusement industry
Mary Chris Smith is on the ride of her life, and she doesn’t want to get off! She is President of Allied Specialty Insurance and Executive Vice President of XL Catlin, for which Allied is a subsidiary, dedicated solely to the amusement and entertainment industries and their unique risk management needs. She also serves as Director of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association. And, this May, Mary became the first woman in the amusement industry to be featured in ‘Amusement Today’ inaugural interview series, "Women of Influence.”
A child of the carnival industry, her grandparents were the founders of Luehrs Ideal Rides traveling carnival, and her husband’s family built the Allied business, which has just celebrated its 35th anniversary.
With a strong focus on customer service and promoting prolonged success in the industry, Mary and her team are committed to caring for clients, protecting the pride of their businesses and helping them navigate the challenging regulatory and economic environment supporting the industry.
What makes amusement parks so special?
The sights, sounds and smells of an amusement park makes for the some of best memories for kids and kids at heart, and the chills and thrills of a good ride keeps them coming back for more. In 2017, more than 335 million people did just that. From mega parks like Disneyworld, Six Flags and Busch Gardens, to smaller regional amusement parks, boardwalks, fairs and carnivals, there are more than 30,000 venues in the US alone to experience. This singular kind of entertainment appeals to such a broad audience; there’s literally something for everyone. They are wonderful places to come together, have fun, escape the everyday – and be transported. I’ve been in this business my whole life, and I still get excited whether I’m visiting a client site, or enjoying a venue for myself!
The biggest concerns for amusement owners and operators today are…?
Amusement venues operate seamlessly every day, but when an unfortunate incident occurs of course it makes big headlines. No one wants to be a headline and be regarded as an unsafe venue but, more importantly, no one wants to see anyone hurt. Equipment safety has and always will be concern Number One in this industry. Rides that are designed safely, inspected regularly and whose owners follow recommended safety guidelines to achieve that.
Equally in focus is eliminating risky human behavior, which the industry finds is the root cause of amusement venue accidents. We encourage our amusement operator clients to enforce, and reinforce, the rules and regulations of safe ridership to their visitors as much as possible. They need to clearly indicate when riders need to take precautions on a ride based upon the performance of the ride and the effect if may have on one’s health. They need to strictly enforce age and height restrictions – no exceptions. Additionally, they need to state clearly and repeatedly when it’s inappropriate to stand up on a seated ride, rock a capsule or seat, or hang a limb out of a ride. We strongly encourage our clients to also offer training to their staff from reputable industry groups like the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA).
What’s the riskiest ride to go on?
It’s not what you think! While that roller coaster may look the part, you’re actually more likely to trip getting on or off a Merry Go Round. According to IAAPA, the chance of being seriously injured on a fixed-site ride at a U.S. amusement park is 1 in 16 million, with most injuries reported tending to be “slips, trips and falls” and not actual ride operations. That said, I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of potential accidents or injuries, and the sincere concerns everyone in the industry shares in making sure consumers are safe and protected while enjoying these amusements.
We encourage our amusement operator clients to enforce, and reinforce, the rules and regulations of safe ridership to their visitors as much as possible."
How safe are today’s rides?
It may seem like today’s new thrills – the super rollercoasters, sky scraping ferris wheels and wild virtual reality experiences, etc. – would enhance risk because of their speed, heights and sensory stimulation. However, the same technological advances that makes all of that possible also provides for the most advanced safety features for thrill seekers. For example, the latest launch technology that allows roller coasters to reach higher speeds in seconds, and puts riders in all sorts of sitting/standing/lying positions, also includes redundant safety mechanisms that address power failures or other primary system fails. Advanced safety mechanisms combined with inspections and operator training make ride operations safer than it’s ever been. It’s important that we continuously look at the advancements and monitor for potential issues to make sure that new thrills don’t cause increased risk.
Is greater risk tied to traveling amusements versus permanent amusement parks/rides?
All amusement operators take safety seriously equally, and follow rigorous safety practices. Traveling carnivals are often family run and, as with my family, the business is passed on generation to generation. These operations are their livelihood, and so providing a safe experience has to be a priority in order to protect it. They are diligent in incorporating effective safety protocols and providing employee training. And physical inspections are a big part of this process.
Before we provide insurance coverage, the risk of a traveling amusement operator has to be properly assessed. We inspect the rides and other parts of the operation, and look at their safety inspection procedures. Add to that all operators themselves inspect on a daily basis, and some states also inspect carnival rides every time they are set up in a new location. Therefore, each ride is inspected, sometimes multiple times, before a fair or carnival opens for business.
For fixed site venues, state inspectors typically inspect annually, and have considerable amusement experience. These operators themselves maintain their own vigorous schedules of inspections and training to meet today’s challenging safety, regulatory and economic environment.
What more can the industry do to protect those who come to the fair or put a quarter in a mall ride?
Since 1983, Allied has partnered with some of the amusement industry’s leading trade organizations, including Outdoor Amusement Business Association, Showmen’s League of America, IAAPA and the American Pyrotechnic Association to provide support unique to this industry. We are being proactive in addressing our clients’ concerns, their insurance and risk management needs, and helping their businesses grow and thrive. In pushing for greater focus on quality and excellence, we are making sure the industry is primed for prolonged success, and we can only do that if we keep safety and excellence at the center of everything we do.
What can amusement park riders do to make sure they have a safe, fun ride?
Thrill seekers should look forward to going to that county fair, or their local boardwalk amusement park, or that mega amusement complex with their family and friends and having a great time. Know that there are many highly trained professionals behind each ride, but that you’re in control of your experience, too. Adhere to the rules and guidelines posted for every ride. Always use the safety devices provided correctly, including seat belts and safety bars. Know your limits and respect the limits of others, especially children. And be sure and follow the operator’s instructions.
In addition, if you see something that doesn’t seem right, makes you feel unsafe, or if you see inappropriate behavior by riders or the operator for that matter, say something. Don’t ever hesitate to approach the operator, a supervisor or site manager immediately.
It is my hope and goal that we continue to enjoy this special kind of entertainment for generations.