AIMS Safety Seminar draws record crowds, stresses education

AT: Pam Sherborne

GALVESTON, Texas —Three years ago, Judy Toff, Dollywood Resort, Pigeon Forge, Tenn., transitioned to that park’s safety department. In taking a close look of guests coming through the park’s accessibility center, she saw something significant.

“I saw that in three weeks we had had 175 children in the park with some degree of autism,” Toff told attendees during one of the more than 200 classes being offered at the 2019 AIMS Safety Seminar

Toff told attendees how this led to significant changes at the park in an effort to create a safer environment not only for those with autism, but all guests.

Toff was just one of more than 100 volunteer instructors at this year’s seminar that ended up drawing a record crowd of 480. It was held Jan. 14-18, in Galveston, Texas.  Last year’s attendance, another record, was 450.

“I think the industry is just becoming more and more safety conscious,” said Holly Coston, AIMS seminar manager for the last 25 years. “We have people from amusement parks, water parks, family entertainment centers (FECs) and carnivals.”

The seminar offers a very wide range of safety education in topics from Toff’s accessibility issues to arc flash awareness, ATSM standards, active shooter, aerial passenger ropeways, amusement park railroad, block system trouble shooting, developing a maintenance program, bearing types and uses, electrical grounding, electrical schematic reading, fall protection, heat related illnesses, lithium batteries, midway game safety, pumps and plumbing maintenance, shop and tool safety, sign safety, working with inspectors and visual inspection. 

New this year was an FEC series certification program. AIMS Executive Director Karen Oertley said this series was an eight-hour schedule of classes specific to the FEC industry. 

 AIMS offers certification testing in these areas: Certified Maintenance Technician – Levels I, II, and III; Certified Operations Technician – Levels I, II, and III; Certified Aquatics Operations Technician – Level I;  Associate Ride Inspector – Level I; Certified Ride Inspector – Level I and Professional Ride Inspector – Level III.

NAARSO testing  is offered as well.

But, AIMS seminar organizers stress that even though there is an extensive ride certification program and it has been growing, “the seminar is also about education.”

For example, Toff’s class showed attendees how finding out how to help families in which there is autism not only makes for a safer park, it also makes for a busier one. In the last three years, Dollywood has hosted 5,000 families where a member has been diagnosed with autism. After setting up their calming rooms, an area where a person with autism has a chance to decompress, Toff said they have had over 400 families use it. 

 “We have had over 350 families come to our park because the room existed,” she said. 

Jeff McGowen, Harris County Sheriff’s Department, Houston, and Bill Wheeler, Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Harris County, led the active shooter classes. The two stressed training and educating the staff.

“But the first thing you need to envision is a shooter coming into your venue,” McGowen told attendees. “If you believe that can happen, then you will take it seriously.”

Keynote speaker this year was Pat Hoffman, Hoffman Consultants, who gave attendees a historical journey through amusement rides.

The AIMS safety seminar also offers  hands-on classes. This year that was held at Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, owned by Landry’s. Pleasure Pier hosted the Wednesday night AIMS social. 

“We really appreciate the support that Landry’s has given us,” Oertley said. “Not only with letting us use their rides for our classwork, but also being so accommodating in hosting our social event.

“We also really appreciate all our volunteers that give up their time and their expertise as well as all our supporting sponsors,” she said.  

The 2019 seminar is Oertley’s last in the position of executive director. She has held this position for the last five years and will retire in April. She is thankful that the number of sponsors has grown since she has been at the helm. This year, there were 44 sponsors of the safety seminar. In 2015, there were 21.

“So, we have more than doubled that number,” she said. 

There is currently a search by the AIMS board to find Oertley’s replacement.

Coming on board this year was Lesley Lassiter, AIMS’s new certification program manager.


This article appears in the FEBRUARY 2019 issue of Amusement Today.
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