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Orange County

Disney to Let Public In on Safety Plans

Theme parks: In a major policy shift, the company will name a chief safety officer and release training and procedures manual.

June 04, 2002|KIMI YOSHINO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Walt Disney Co., under scrutiny for two high-profile accidents in a two-year span, will unveil a comprehensive safety plan today that includes naming a chief safety officer and issuing a 30-page Report on Safety.

Officials are expected to reveal once closely guarded details of their theme parks' safety operations in Anaheim and Orlando, Fla., including operator guidelines, accident reporting procedures and how rides are designed with safety in mind.

It was unclear whether Disney will be making any major safety changes or whether it will be opening up its safety statistics for public scrutiny.

Still, the changes appear to signal a shift in Disney's corporate culture. In an effort to preserve what company officials often call the "Disney magic," they have treated discussions of accidents as taboo.

When a park visitor died after being struck at the dock of the ship Columbia in December 1998, park officials cleaned up the scene and interviewed witnesses before authorities arrived.

"It's monumental on several levels," Tim O'Brien, senior editor of Amusement Business, a weekly trade publication, said of Disney's change of heart on discussions about safety.

"It's an openness from the giant that could send ripples across the whole industry, as far as safety."

Disney officials declined to comment Monday and would not reveal details of their plan.

O'Brien, who saw an advance copy of the report and published an article in this week's Amusement Business, said it names Greg Hale as the company's first chief safety officer. Hale previously served as vice president of design, engineering and regulatory compliance at Walt Disney World.

The report outlines company policies and procedures related to safety, training, security and emergency response.

It also will be available on the Internet for park guests and industry officials who may want to model their guidelines after Disney's.

The report includes a chapter titled "Safety by Design," which discusses engineering, safety technology, operating guides and training.

O'Brien credited the company for taking the lead in safety discussions.

Critics have long contended that Disney needed to be more forthcoming about its safety policies and more savvy in its public response to accidents.

The company came under fire after the Christmas Eve accident at Disneyland in Anaheim in 1998, when a 33-year-old man from Washington was killed after a cleat tore free from the Columbia, flew into a crowd and struck his head.

Disneyland employees cleaned up the scene and cleared away evidence before police arrived 41/2 hours after the accident.

The park was fined $12,500 for misuse of equipment and failing to train employees properly.

In September 2000, Disneyland also was criticized for its public statements following an accident on Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin that severely injured Brandon Zucker, who was 4 years old at the time.

Park officials stopped short of blaming Brandon, but implied rider error by issuing statements that guests are safe when they remain seated and keep their arms and legs inside the ride.

A state investigation found no evidence that Brandon might have been misbehaving, and Disney was ordered to make design changes to the ride's "taxi-cab"--style cars.

Investigators also determined that Brandon was not loaded properly into the ride and that the lap bar may not have been completely lowered.

Len Welsh, special counsel for the state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said he had not seen details of Disney's safety plan, but applauded the company. "This is the kind of leadership one would expect out of a Disney," Welsh said.

Kathy Fackler, a La Jolla mother whose son was injured more than four years ago on a Disneyland roller coaster, has been an outspoken critic of amusement parks. She repeatedly has called for more regulation, better accident reporting and streamlined, comprehensive data collection.

Fackler, who did not know the safety campaign's details, said she has noticed a gradual willingness by Disney officials to discuss controversial issues.

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