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When you evacuate an attraction, how long should it take?

The 911 tape for the heavily reported on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey evacuation has been released. On it, one of the ride’s passengers claims they had been kept waiting 15 minutes in an uncomfortable position without any notice from ride attendants when help would come.

Leaving aside how accurate the 15 minute claim was, I think the incident poses an interesting question to consider. How long is too long to wait for an evacuation? Should a theme park be required to have enough staff close at hand to evacuate a building in 2-3 minutes in case of a fire or similar problem? 3-5 minutes?

What are your thoughts? I’m interested in a serious discussion about guest safety here.

First the decision has to be made to evacuate after a ride-stop. Standard operating procedure might require a whole series of checklists to check for safety concerns before a ride operator can know if the attraction needs to be evacuated or if it can be just restarted. An evacuation at the end of the night, as this one was, is likely to make hundreds of park guests waiting in the queue very unhappy as they won’t get a change to ride before the park closes, so every effort was probably made to get things restarted without an evacuation. But how long is too long?

In a related issue, once an evacuation is decided, how long should that take? Obviously, safety of cast and guests is the primary concern. But what if there is an emergency or risk of injury? Airlines are required to affect a complete evacuation of the plane in 90 seconds. For the most part theme park attractions aren’t sitting on containers full of fuel or accelerants. So 90 seconds is probably too strict, but even smoke or burning sets can quickly make an attraction a death trap. (Aside: Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean is essentially one big tinderbox of plywood and two-by-fours.) What about ride vehicles that require external assistance to evacuate?

Once again, I’m surprised there is no official body that requires these sort of safety standards for theme park and amusement attractions.

Previously: When is it okay to call 911 when stuck on an attraction.