Managing Aquatic Facilities

By Adam Blackmore

“Aquatic manager” is a fairly common designation in the world of pool management. The manager oversees competition, open-swim, therapy, and instructional pools, as well as water parks ranging from 100 acres to only a couple of activity areas. Each facility requires a unique managerial skill set that is often either unknown or taken for granted.

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High-Risk Attractions
Usually the rides that guests think are the most fun also pose the greatest risk for a park operator. This creates the need for stringent staff training on all aspects of a water feature. Since the majority of attractions are not created the same, each has its own set of safety guidelines:

  • Minimum rider height

  • Maximum rider weight

  • Dispatching procedures

  • Emergency shutdown functions.

It is important for a trainer to review all of these areas with staff members and include measures to ensure everyone understands the guidelines; this can be in the form of a written or verbal quiz, the accumulation of a set number of hours “shadowing” a seasoned staff member, or a specific instruction checklist. It is also important to implement a regular audit or inspection procedure to ensure consistency and compliance with safety protocol. In the high-risk world of litigation and enjoying life to the extreme, it is impossible to be too careful when it comes to establishing safety measures.

Guest Conduct
There will always be challenges and room for improvement when it comes to customer service. However, water parks lend themselves to unique situations requiring creative training and, in many cases, an even-tempered manager. Sometimes, in parks that sell day-passes, the majority of the visitors are only in town for a short time or don’t plan on visiting the facility regularly, which can lead to a lack of respect for or ownership of the facility. Patrons may be more inclined to take risks on attractions, litter, break rules, or challenge management to accommodate their family’s needs since they are “on vacation.” It is important to train staff to be vigilant for any unruly behavior and to ensure rules are enforced consistently. In a large water park, the turnover of the daily customer base may be close to 100 percent, which means the need for patience, service, and policy reiteration is essential.

A number of today’s parks are also trying to make the facilities as attractive to adults as well as kids; this means offering adult amenities, such as private spa areas, cabanas, and alcoholic beverages. The list of questionable behavior that can accompany these types of offerings is endless, and should be discussed during management training. At a minimum, bartenders and servers should know when to stop selling to intoxicated individuals, deck supervisors should be comfortable handling inappropriate displays of affection or altercations, and management should have a broad skill set to adapt to any and all situations.

These conduct concerns can lead to the need for increased security, but that may be difficult when juggling the bottom line of a profit statement. Since it is impossible to cover all areas of a park at all times, typical problems such as guest altercations, injuries, theft, and vandalism should be tracked. This is helpful in formulating a pre-season checklist that highlights risk concerns, secure entry points, and all cash-handling outlets. This information should be tracked throughout the season to create a trend analysis and facility audit. Open communication with general managers, administration, and owners on these issues is imperative, as funds can only be allocated or adjustments made to staffing dollars for security personnel or equipment if they know there is a problem. It’s also a good idea to conduct a post-season meeting to review all areas of facility safety in order to create a plan for the following year to alleviate or refine policies and procedures.

Supervision
Water-park operators are continuously asked to do more with less; this leads to situations where it is a challenge to ensure there is enough staff to sufficiently oversee the pool decks of large facilities. With the number of full-time staff in the industry stagnant, more responsibility is being placed on the shoulders of part-time or inexperienced deck supervisors. Previously, “deck supervision” meant to watch the lifeguards, respond to emergencies, and assist guests. Now--in addition to those duties--the job means helping with food and beverage, running the first-aid station, checking chemicals, auditing staff, organizing and ordering facility inventory, planning special events, cleaning the bathrooms, and teaching a lifeguard class. It is tough to do all of these tasks and still maintain a culture of strong lifeguard vigilance, guest service, and facility care. Also, with sprawling water-park layouts, the challenge is to keep an eye on lifeguards to ensure they are watching the water or dispatching correctly; the guest-service staff, to make sure trash cans are empty and cash-handling is top-notch; and guests, to make sure the facility is safe from predators, rule breakers, or unhappy paying patrons. The responsibility for success in supervision of the facility depends on an efficient, well-planned training program and consistent communication with the administration or ownership to reiterate the importance of vigilant deck management. The challenge for all water-park operators--both public and private--is always going to be balancing strong guest care and facility safety with revenue or profit growth. By taking the time to properly plan for the unexpected and by keeping an open dialogue with the powers that be, the operator can be successful in this balancing act.

Water parks can be a world of fun for all parties, but they are the most unique entity in the industry, and must be treated as such. Even though the term “water park” can mean public, private, large, or small, they are not created equal, just like the titles of the people running them.

Adam Blackmore is the Aquatics Manager for the city ofHenderson Parks & Recreation inNevada. He has been in the aquatic industry for eight years working in both the public and private sector. He holds current certifications as a lifeguard training instructor, CPR & First Aid instructor, Certified Pool Operator, and Aquatic Facility Operator, and is aCertifiedParks and Recreation Professional. He can be reached via email at adam.blackmore@cityofhenderson.com.