Staffing and Operations Tips for Water Parks Following COVID-19
The 2020 operating season for water parks will be unlike any other in the wake (no pun intended) of COVID-19. Everything from training, opening, and operating will be different. “Training this year is going to have an extra layer, especially with changes we’re going to see come through our standard operating procedures. Right now is the time to start planning ahead.” says RAC Carroll, the senior vice president and chief operating officer for Ellis & Associates, a company specializing in training water park lifeguards and auditing their performance.
“There’s certain places I’ve been where personal space is in high demand,” says Scott Deisley, the vice president of operations at SST Worldwide, a Dubai-based company specializing in safe operating techniques. He recommends operators begin walking their properties now to develop strategies, like the ones outlined below.
1. Create “Teams”
Much like high school sports, Carroll suggests water parks create a varsity and junior varsity team of employees. While both teams should include a roster of skilled employees, the two teams should not be in the game at the same time. “We may want to keep those groups separated in order to keep some continuity of operation, in case we have some slip back of infections,” Carroll says.
Keeping the two teams separate will allow operators to remain open, should one group of employees need to stay home as a precaution. “From a business continuity standpoint, if you do have an exposure somewhere, you’re only exposing a portion of the team. If you have an A and a B (team), you might still be able to retain your whole A shift,” says Deisley.
Operators may want to split their facility in half by creating zones, or scheduling staff to work different shifts. “It’s just about limiting those exposures. The less people that you interact with—the less risk of a larger exposer incident,” Deisley says.
2. Recruit Top Lifeguards
“There are going to be a number of locations and pools in every community that have already decided not to open,” Carroll says. “You might find there are lifeguards out there, who are looking to work—who have not worked for you before—that might not be part of your normal, traditional recruiting process.”
Carroll believes now is the time to recruit new lifeguards who find themselves looking for a summer job. One of the best ways for a water park to recruit new lifeguards is to ask the current pool of lifeguards to recommend their friends who are serious about water safety. “Those individuals who desire to become lifeguards, are really no different than the heroes you see out there on the frontlines today,” Carroll says, adding there is something at play in the character of a person who chooses to be a lifeguard that compels them want to help others.
3. Communicate Your Plan—Twice
One size does not fit all when it comes to drafting a communications plan. Water parks need to develop two plans: one that is guest-facing for visitors, and a second for lifeguards who may be a bit nervous to work with the general public. “When we come out of this, it’s not just the guests that will be concerned about facing people at close range again—it’s going to be the staff, your colleagues, who are going to feel the same pressure, probably a little bit more so,” Deisley says. Therefore, he recommends all water park staff be educated on new policies that not only impact employees, but also will affect the guest experience.
“If you communicate the plan to the team, then when they are asked questions or when they face someone who is a little frustrated with new guidelines, they will be able to talk to them with confidence,” Deisley says. He believes by properly educating seasonal staff members, guests will have a less stressful day.
Carroll agrees the close-range nature of lifeguarding makes transparent communication essential to all 2020 training programs. That means taking time now to draft facility communication plans. “It’s really important that we’re communicating clearly to our employees about the precautions that we’re taking and putting in place for them—during training, as well as from an operational standpoint,” Carroll says.
4. Train Long-Distance
Carroll says lifeguard training traditionally involves participants coming together in a group, getting in the pool, and beginning to bond as a team. While the need to ramp up quickly will make this year different, training can still be successful if operators use what he calls “blending learning”—a mix of training before lifeguards report for duty, followed by time in the pool. “Training can’t be a bottle neck,” Carroll says. “This is going to be a year when we’re going to have a very tight time space.” Therefore, Carroll says operators need to start planning to conduct training in new ways. He recommends:
- Sending training manuals and handbooks to lifeguards and operations staff now.
- Holding online training sessions using technology like Zoom and the Marco Polo teleconferencing app.
- Administering quizzes at the end of online learning sessions.
- Developing videos that lifeguards should watch now.
- Sharing with lifeguards what an accelerated in-water training course will look like, so employees can be ready to focus once on site.
- “We might have one or two days to do our site-specific learning,” Carroll says. “You need a way to get them prepared … prior to them getting to the hands on and practicing part at the facility.
5. Develop and Test New Procedures Now
Protecting lives as a lifeguard, and social distancing, are polar opposites. Deisley recommends operators follow local jurisdictions and state-mandated safety protocols, like wearing a mask, as a precautionary measure.
He also believes now is the time for water parks to develop and test their new operational procedures. If the operations team is going to place markers on the ground for line control, Deisley says now is the time to splash water on the signage to see if the tape continues to stick to the pavement when wet. He also suggests painting markers on the ground is reasonable this season. No matter what system operators select, all departments—from food and beverage to restrooms—need to be consistent. “If I am waiting in a queue line in one place that has Xs (taped) on the floor so that we can maintain spacing, I would like to see that throughout. That’s going to lower my stress level (as a guest),” Deisley says.