Kansas wants to increase regulation of amusement rides

Posted Friday, March 17, 2017 9:03 AM | Contributed by Jeff

A state lawmaker is seeking to strengthen regulations for amusement parks in Kansas after a colleague’s 10-year-old son was killed last year on a water slide dubbed the world’s tallest. Rep. John Barker’s bill would require the insurance companies representing the parks to hire a certified engineer to inspect the rides. Under current Kansas law, the parks themselves can choose the inspectors, who don’t necessarily have to be engineers.

Read more from AP via The Washington Post.

Friday, March 17, 2017 11:48 AM

I know that the typical CBuzz response to more amusement industry regulation is pretty negative, but given what happened here I think this is pretty damn justified.


- Johnathan
@robotfactory

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Friday, March 17, 2017 11:57 AM
Tekwardo's avatar

I'm okay with states determining how to regulate, but Markey wants federal regulations. Sounds like the Kansas system was inadequate in the first place.


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Friday, March 17, 2017 12:22 PM
Jeff's avatar

What additional regulation would have prevented the accident?


Jeff - Webmaster/Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Twitter - Video

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Friday, March 17, 2017 1:51 PM

Jeff said:
What additional regulation would have prevented the accident?

One thing I am surprised by, and I do not know how Kansas operates, is that there seems to be general agreement that there were engineering related problems with the ride. I don't know how the amusement industry works in this area, whether the engineers that did the design were professional engineers in the first place, etc., but I could see the potential of a professional engineer catching some fo the problems with the design of that ride. I also could see a professional engineer doing an inspection uncovering implementation flaws either in the construction or maintenance of a ride. It's not amusement related, but a classic case of a failure in this regards is the Hyatt Regency walkway collapse in Kansas City. In this case, a change was made during construction which resulted in a very unsafe condition. On a ride, be it rollercoaster or water slide, I could certainly see operational changes that might result in safety related problems. For example, on a water ride, would a velcro seatbelt be strong enough to hold a rider in place. Maybe, but that also is assuming, for example, that fuzz doesn't get stuck to the velcro. On a roller coaster, is a leather belt strong enough to hold a rider in? Maybe, if the bolts are tightened enough, etc.

The amusement industry is very specialized, and there are specialized ergonomic issues to be dealt with. Other industries, which markedly do have larger numbers of trained individuals, have to deal with these items routinely, but sometimes, the amusement industry, due to its size, may not have the depth in all areas. And it's not just a size based issue. Disney had a lot of issues with Mission Space as well as Big Thunder Mountain (the 2003 accident stands out the most) over the years . Six Flags has had issues with quite a few rides (Superman for example), as has Cedar Fair (Perilous Plunge and WindSeeker).

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Friday, March 17, 2017 1:54 PM

Jeff said:
What additional regulation would have prevented the accident?

Prevent engineers who use the oxymoron "safe dangerous" from building rides?

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Friday, March 17, 2017 3:34 PM
HeyIsntThatRob?'s avatar

Jeff said:

What additional regulation would have prevented the accident?

I don't know. I'm not familiar with regulations in Kansas and Pennsylvania, but from what I saw, there a MUCH more scrutiny over Knoebel's Flying Turns ride and multiple redesigns were required to satisfy PA's requirements in order to operate. Seeing that FT has been operating without any major incidents for 4 seasons now, I would surmise that Kansas would want to see what kind of regulations are in place and follow the inspection procedures that PA is doing.

One thing I find in the Automation field and in safety initiatives, variations are bad. Meaning as an example, on a roller coaster track, we always know the predicted path. The wheels and track determine where the car goes and will never change. There are some variations based on temperature, moisture, and weight that affect timing and speed, and some design is needed to compensate for that. But apply those variables to rides like Flying Turns and Verrukct that don't have rigid and predictable paths and that's when bad things could happen.

Last edited by HeyIsntThatRob?, Friday, March 17, 2017 3:35 PM
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Friday, March 17, 2017 4:58 PM
Tekwardo's avatar

Jeff said:
What additional regulation would have prevented the accident?

Well that depends. If the park in question choose someone random that has no experience sign off on an inspection, since the park chooses who inspected it, and that person wasn't really qualified, this could have prevented them opening the ride after all of the major issues they kept having. Also, safe dangerous, a phrase uttered by the park, is an.alternative fact b


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Saturday, March 18, 2017 6:58 PM

I just want to verify, but based on the Washington Post article, they still have not officially determined the cause of the accident, correct? I haven't seen the official cause yet and was wondering if I missed it.

I think the legislation is probably a good thing in this case, but at the same time I can't help but wonder if it would have changed the outcome at all. I'm sure Schlitterbahn didn't go into this ride thinking "let's try to kill someone", as safety failures at a park can destroy their business. It behooves them (and all parks) to have safe rides. When you venture into the unknown of a new style ride, you have to be diligent as possible in trying to think of every outcome. It's quite possible the engineer from the insurance company might not have predicted this accident either.


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Saturday, March 18, 2017 8:17 PM
Jeff's avatar

That's just it... killing and injuring people is really bad for business. It's the reason that Kentucky Kingdom under Six Flags folded.


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Sunday, March 19, 2017 1:02 AM

First of all, to robotfactory's comment, I think consensus around here, to the degree that there can be such a thing, is that amusement ride regulation is not necessarily a bad thing...it is not a bad thing to have reasonable requirements and inspection programs especially at the State level, where the program's tend to be detailed and reasonably effective. What seems to be a Bad Idea™ is for the Federal government to step in and effectively pre-empt the State programs with a new regulatory program that fails to do what most of the States are already doing.

Except for Schlitterbahn, there are no major amusement ride companies in Kansas. Carnivals, certainly, plus a major carnival ride manufacturer, but no parks. From a regulatory perspective, they are dealing with mostly off-the-shelf rides and an insurance requirement pretty much takes care of ride safety: the State requires coverage by a reputable insurer, and any reputable insurer is going to require a third party inspection to make sure the ride meets manufacturer's specifications before they will underwrite it.

Schlitterbahn ends up being a special case. Suddenly there is a park full of rides that are not 'off the shelf' rides that any trained inspector can sign off on. Even worse, any third party inspector is going to defer to the manufacturer on the engineering fitness of the ride, and in this case the manufacturer is presumably NBGS, which is...Schlitterbahn. If you go by industry standards, which most States do, the ultimate authority for any inspection program is handed back to the manufacturer, or more accurately in the language of the relevant ASTM standards (you knew I was going to bring that up, right?), the "designer/engineer".

Now here's the other problem. Okay, so the State wants rides to be inspected by engineers. What exactly does that mean? In spite of the impression you may have been given by the now-infamous TV special, I'm reasonably certain that as a manufacturer, Schlitterbahn operates in accordance with industry best practices. The design is carefully examined at every stage and the performance is predicted and measured. Best of all, the engineers working for the company (whether in-house or third party, credentialed or not) are experts when it comes to the performance of water slides, including water slides that use boats such as Verrückt. The reality is, if you bring in a third party professional engineer to review the design, what you are going to get is a review of the structure to make sure it doesn't fall down, and possibly a rudimentary hazard analysis which for practical reasons will be less detailed than the one the manufacturer would have conducted in accordance with ASTM F2291:5 or F2376 as appropriate.

So we are back to Jeff's question: what would additional regulation have done to prevent the incident...and unfortunately I think the answer is still "absolutely nothing." But even at that, that the proposed changes would not have prevented the incident they had, does not automatically mean the changes they are proposing are necessarily a bad thing, or not a useful change. It merely means the proposed changes probably would not have prevented that particular incident. It would, however, make it easier for the State to assert that it had done everything it could have reasonably done to prevent the incident, something I don't think they are comfortable saying at the moment..

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

Last edited by RideMan, Sunday, March 19, 2017 1:08 AM

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Sunday, March 19, 2017 1:12 AM
Boesball's avatar

As someone who is in college studying Economics and planning on becoming an actuary (the person who would be analyzing the odds and risks of things happening for insurance companies), I definitely find this story interesting. From the insurance company's perspective, they are financially motivated to not have the ride create an accident. The insurance companies make money when nothing exciting happens. When a big law suit comes in or if the state or federal governments have to put in regulations, it makes their jobs more expensive. Therefore, it's likely that the company hired engineers way above what is considered a "certified engineer" when it comes to engineer skills and background. This regulation likely won't affect anyone or change anything except make the work for the insurance companies a bit more annoying, as they'll have to get engineers that are certified the way Kansas wants.

RideMan said:

So we are back to Jeff's question: what would additional regulation have done to prevent the incident...and unfortunately I think the answer is still "absolutely nothing." But even at that, that the proposed changes would not have prevented the incident they had, does not automatically mean the changes they are proposing are necessarily a bad thing, or not a useful change. It merely means the proposed changes probably would not have prevented that particular incident. It would, however, make it easier for the State to assert that it had done everything it could have reasonably done to prevent the incident, something I don't think they are comfortable saying at the moment.

These proposed changes probably have nothing to do with safety, as they are merely used to reinstate trust in the public. It helps Kansas as a whole if people are going to this water park, and the park itself probably is welcoming these regulations. The park brings people in to get hotels, get taxis, pay random taxes, and if people trust the governments ability to regulate, more people will come in and go to the park and pay for those things and pay those extra little taxes instead of going to other states. So all in all, the answer to Jeff's question is "it doesn't matter", not a yes or no, as profit drives the parks to be safe, and Kansas is really just trying to protect its own (not very strong) tourism market.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017 1:36 AM

Once I was in a conversation with Pat Koch and she said the absolute number one thing a park owner lives with every day is the fear of an accident. It was an eye opener and I've never forgotten it.

So my initial reaction to this story was to wonder if engineers have better things to do with their degrees than to spend ninety nine hours walking the track of Mean Streak. I know people that are involved with ride inspections here in Ohio and whether they are engineers or not, they are highly trained and keep abreast of the latest technologies and trends. They answer to the state and it's serious business if there's a failure in the process. Over the years I've come to realize that different states have different regulations, and I don't know what's going on currently in Kansas. I do know that any operator anywhere is foolish to not take every single precaution available. If nothing ever happens, at least their insurers will thank them.

In the case of The Kansas City tragedy, the biggest determination comes from whether the manufacturer bears responsibility for knowing if every safety scenario is covered or if it's the park inspector's job to recognize that something may occur stemming from a particular design configuration. The ride passed into operation then gave how many safe, successful rides before this freakish event? This wasn't a mechanical failure, per se, but the rider can't be blamed, either.

Remember, this ride was a failure from the get-go. Once testing started it was clear that it ran too fast and then steps were taken to slow it down. And that certainly involved the manufacturer attempting to correct design flaws in an un-tried attraction, the park attempting to protect all that was invested, and hapless inspectors who waited for the ride to send thousands of test dummies down the chute without incident before they'd sign off on it. It's a giant cluster, alright.

I guess I'm just not sure if all the inspectors and engineers on earth could have prevented this from happening.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017 3:04 PM
Pete's avatar

Supposedly this ride was designed with best practices​, etc., but I'd like to know what practices were followed that predicted an almost, but not quite airtime hill as a good idea on a trackless raft ride.

Rafts flying off in testing makes me think that the ride was flawed in concept and execution from the very beginning. If the ride had an uphill section after the big drop that lead to a series of turns the rafts would have had unquestioned positive G's all along the course and probably would have made for a safe and very successful ride. Or, just make it a drop and then a long straight, flat flume with a gradual stop in the run out if cost of the turns would have made it go over budget.

I always thought designing a water park raft ride with a roller coaster profile was unwise and a recipe for disaster. Turns out that thought was accurate.


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