On December 29, 2014 several Orlando news stations decided to run a story about Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts at Universal Studios Florida when it needed to be evacuated. As these things go, one ride vehicle was placed in a position where the Operations Team Members at Universal couldn’t safely evacuate it and the Orange County Fire Department came in to assist.
Click this video to see how ridiculous the newscast for Orlando’s Local 6 got. Not only did they have a reporter in the Walgreens parking lot across the street from Universal Orlando, they had a helicopter fly over the scene where they saw the fire truck stop and the “rescue team” casually walk into the back door of the show building for Gringotts.
To be fair to Local 6, they weren’t the only one to send reporters and choppers above the scene, there were several film crews in the area that followed suit. Indeed, flying over a dark ride show building to capture any kind of footage is silly. Bad news: there is no glass ceiling and no way to see anything going on.
@MathQueenB, waiting for rescue, took the time to go on Twitter and tweeted: “OMG help us we have been trapped on the Harry Potter ride for at least 30 minutes! My feet are numb from being stuck!” Good news, QueenB is alright and so was everyone else as there were no reported injuries, much to the chagrin of flying helicopters outside like vultures waiting for a taste of meat.
Rides come to a stop all the time for several different reasons and unfortunately, due to everyone having access to a cell phone in their pocket, some stranded passengers take to the internet or contact local media while waiting to be evacuated to give them the big scoop!
Unfortunately the media continues to cover these events as if they don’t happen on a semi-regular basis. In 2011, a similar story was scattered around the news about E.T. at Universal Studios Florida needing fire rescue crews to get 11 people down from a ride vehicle that was suspended in the air due to a ride stop that couldn’t be restarted. Yet again, no one was remotely hurt and the ride restarted the next day.
In 2010 local Orlando news crews were at it again with a story about 132 people being evacuated from Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Islands of Adventure. Indeed, fire rescue crews were called in to help the few vehicles that were at an unsafe position to unload and they helped those guests down without injury.
What do all these incidents have in common? Someone on the ride most likely called the media to alert them to their being stuck. Or, a reporter at a news station was listening to a police scanner and heard the call for a fire truck to be dispatched to Universal Orlando Resort. While it is a good idea to follow the story and see if it leads anywhere, to report on a ride evacuation is like reporting on a fire drill at a middle school or a plane being delayed for a technical glitch.
In the end, it amounts to nothing and everyone involved remains unharmed and the ride continues operating as normal either later during the day or the next day depending on operational necessity. With that, I give you my open letter to all media regarding ride evacuations:
Getting people to sit down and watch the news these days continues to be an uphill battle. With viewers having continued shrinking attention spans, you need to find splashy headlines in order to grab readers and viewers or else you’re all out of a job. I get it. Times are tough.
However, on behalf of everyone who works in the amusement industry: standard ride evacuations are not only a normal (albeit unfortunate) part of daily operations, they are designed with the safety of guests and employees in mind. Indeed, when a ride stops and has to be evacuated, while there is a glitch in the system, 99% of the time the riders are in zero danger.
Sure, there is that less than 1% of the time where something has gone wrong and there could be something serious that the park needs to look at in terms of safety. Sometimes fires happen or safety inspections are done in haste to get the ride open and it is those issues that should be reported on, so it keeps the park and ride manufacturers in check.
I know many readers and viewers see a ride evacuation as a way to shake their fist at the screen and say “I told you that place was unsafe! They ain’t swindling me out of my $95 plus parking!” While the reporting of these incidents may garner attention of guests who visit the parks, it’s unfair to the park and the crew working that attraction.
For the next few days, if not months (or longer), there won’t be one person working at Escape from Gringotts who doesn’t get asked some variation of “Did you fix that problem? Is this safe? How do I know I won’t die?”. Not from a legitimate concern over a ride malfunction that could endanger lives, but the ride control system sensing a potential problem that ultimately stopped the ride to ensure everyone’s safety.
The news, by design, puts us in a state of panic. Sometimes it’s justified, but often it’s not. This may very well be the silliest form of panic spreading yet. There are genuine threats and issues to be discussed, however, standard ride evacuations are not one.
Theme Park University