By Michael Jubie - Headless Horseman Hayrides & Haunted Houses
- The condition of being safe: freedom from danger, risk or injury.
- A device designed to prevent accidents, as a lock on a firearm preventing accidental firing.
- A condom - self explanatory.
Depending on what activity you engage in the risk of injury can multiply. Think about our industry, Haunted Houses, Hayrides and Corn Mazes, all conducted after dark with the intent to frighten the wits out of our guests. It's a great business to be in. However, think about it like an insurance company. Dark, scary, heart attacks, people running though the dark, people tripping in the corn maze, guests falling off hay wagons, guests knees and legs striking props, etc.
How do we address those and other safety issues?
This article will talk about Hayride safety. The precautions listed in the following article are suggestions that work for Headless Horseman Hayrides & Haunted Houses. They may or may not work for your business. Some of the topics may already be in place at your event. Be open minded while reading this article and try what you think will help you and your attraction.
SECURITY COMPANY VS POLICE OFFICERS
ecurity Companies will be less expensive to hire, but money is not the question in an emergency situation. Police officers will require higher pay but they bring the authority, uniform and gun that people throughout the United States recognize.
They also have the power of arrest should that come into play. All police departments are run in a semi-military manor and officers should be used to giving and receiving orders. Assign "post" or locations to each officer. They are required to be at their assigned post unless called away. You must have a person that is the head of your Security Division. Police are familiar with the chain of command and will respect orders given in that format.
In the event of an emergency situation a call from an off duty officer to his or her respective department may get faster response time than from a private citizen. Also, other officers will know they have members working at your venue and may stop in from time to time. Speaking as a retired Detective from New York, I know the importance of Police presence. It is easier to prevent a problem than to solve a problem. Officers that are on duty may stop by to talk with officers working your event. To me this is great. It gives me another police officer at our location as well as a marked police car parked probably in a No Parking Zone in front of or near the ticket booth for all to see.
All drivers at Headless Horseman are required to have a current Commercial Drivers License (CDL). Anyone in possession of a CDL should be familiar with the operation and maintenance of large vehicles.
Tractor drivers are required to inspect their tractor nightly. That inspection consists of fuel, oil, tire pressure, lights, brakes and safety (there's that word again) chains.
New drivers are required to audition for the position just as an actor would. Drivers are instructed by our manager as to the trail surfaces, prop locations, actor locations, hook up of wagons (safety chains & emergency lights), stops on the course and speed to travel the course. The first audition is conducted during daylight hours. They may be required to hook up and drive the course several times to get their speed correct. If a driver passes this part of the requirement they are then asked to return during the evening after dark to hook up and drive the trail again.
Each driver is assigned a tractor for the season. Drivers are required to inspect the tractor assigned to them each night. Fuel, lights, tire pressure and brakes are all their responsibility.
Tractors should be large enough to be able to hold back wagons filled with guests on hills. Pulling is normally not the problem. Being able to stop or prevent the wagon from pushing the tractor causing it to jackknife or be pushed off the trail is the concern. Headless Horseman Hayrides uses all 4 wheel drive tractors. With 4 wheel drive the tractor has better hold back power.
Wagons are a matter of preference. I have seen wagons that have sides on them as well as wagons without sides. Some have bleachers attached and some use bails of hay to sit on. Our wagons do not have sides on them. The guests sit with their legs hanging over the side of the wagon, while those sitting in the center cross their legs to sit.
We load with a set of steps being pulled up to the wagon, while some guests are allowed to walk around the rear of the wagon to take their seats. Each wagon has a storyteller at the front. The storyteller has a couple of jobs. First is to tell the voyagers the story as it unfolds. Their second job is to be in control of the guests. Each wagon has a caution light that is located at the front above the storyteller's head. This light is activated if there is a problem with or on the wagon. This yellow light advises security or tech people what wagon is having a problem.
Another safety device is a set of chains attached to the wagon and tractor. These chains are checked each time a tractor pulls into our loading area. Our staging manager checks them personally every time. Drivers are NOT allowed off a tractor while it is running. We equip our trailers with tail lights so drivers can see where the wagon ahead of them is. I suggest you duct tape the pin holding the wagon to the tractor in place. If you lose this pin you will have a wreck!
Now we have the tractors, wagons, drivers, storytellers, managers and guests. Let's get on the trail. The surface of the roadway is important in many ways. Dirt becomes mud and slides. Gravel rolls with the weight of the vehicle. Blacktop holds oil and fuel from tractors, gators and 4 wheelers used on the course. The choice is yours to fit your event. If you use blacktop on hills, use a binder surface. It is bigger than normal blacktop. Also, you must power wash the hills from time to time to get the dirt off as well as the oil and fuel from other vehicles.
Measure the trails so the tractors and wagons clear props and sets. They should be at least 16' wide. This depends on how guests are sitting and the width of the wagon. I am basing this on people with their legs hanging over the side of the wagon. You also have to think about how high underpasses and bridge work should be. Think about a pull off or turn around area for tractors or wagons that break down.
Radio communications are essential for a good safety program. Each driver, manager, technician, door person, security personal, ticket booth and EMT should be equipped with a good radio. If you have concessions they too should have radio communications. The best way to utilize your radio air is to have at least two, if not three, separate channels to talk on. Split them up so Police and EMT's are separate from tractors, tickets and parking lot personnel. Your main base station should be able to scan all channels. Train your employees in the proper use of the radio. When to talk and when to listen is very important in an emergency situation.
We all can't wait until it gets dark out so our effects and lighting look great. But what do you do when you lose power completely? That is the scariest unplanned effect you can go through. Believe me, it happened at Headless Horseman one evening. It is a must to have generator backups for midway areas, concession areas and walkways. If you can not light the way for your guests they will light it themselves with matches and cigarette lighters. Plan ahead and place generators where your technicians can get to them fast. Have a plan for all your ticket booth workers. What do they do? You can't sell anything because the cash registers won't open. What if it is a robbery? Believe it or not, not all people are nice. Close windows to ticket booths and have Police respond to the ticket booth area. Use megaphones to make announcements and give directions to the crowd. For those on the trail it is not as serious. You can stop the wagons where they are or have a spot where they can all come together. Do not let guests get off the wagons and start to walk. Keep actors at their locations so you can account for them. Advise the guests of what is going on via radio communications to tractor drivers. If you have haunted houses, drill you managers and actors on what to do to help guests get out of the houses. Have a spot where actors can go to report to their managers. If you have more than one house, use different locations for each house.
A subject we never want to think about is total evacuation. Have a plan for evacuation of your entire venue. Give strict directions to managers and all employees on what their responsibility will be during a Total Evacuation Procedure. Employees should report to locations assigned to each piece of the event (Hayrides, Houses, Concessions, etc.). They should know how to help guests get out of the houses and direct them to the nearest exit. Remember gates that were closed during the show must now be opened and used as an exit way. Do not let employees leave the venue. This will only put more people, cars and confusion out in the parking lot. We need to know that they are safe and can be accounted for so we are not searching for someone who has left the property and is now at the local diner. The parking lot crew should direct vehicles out through the exit lane only, keeping the entrance open for emergency vehicles that may have to enter your site. Guests should be told to walk to the exit and their vehicles.
In some cases you may need to have guests leave by the back part of the property, away from where they have parked. This will bring a lot of questions and complaints. Be prepared to give polite but firm directions. Tell them the truth as far as you know it to be. Sometimes it may be better to keep guests where they are depending on the problem. That is a security/manager call. Be sure to assign at least two people to call 911 for help.
We could talk all day about safety at our events, as well as the safety of Major League Baseball games, Hockey and Football games, rock concerts, etc. The call is ultimately up to you. Do what fits your haunt best, we are all different. Good luck and stay safe out there!