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Thrill seekers find their quarry.

The ranger, mounted on his quarter horse, had been patrolling along the edge of the 100-ft.-high abandoned limestone quarry's cliffs for several hours. The sizzling Texas sun was now directly overhead. As beads of sweat trickled down his face, he wondered how long the silence would last.

Then, he heard the familiar sound of wheels slowly climbing the wooden tracks. As he looked down he saw the trains inch their way the tracks with men, women, and children strapped in. He knew it was just a matter of seconds before the screams of terror would begin as they were flung down 166 feet toward the floor of the quarry. The ranger slowly turned the horse and rode away. It was just another typical day at Fiesta Texas--the country's newest theme park.

FIESTA TEXAS, WHICH OPENED March 15, is a family-oriented theme park developed as a joint project between subsidiaries of USAA, the nation's fifth largest private auto and homeowner insurer, and Opryland USA Inc.

Just 20 minutes northwest of downtown San Antonio, the $100 million-plus park's 200 acres are located in an old limestone quarry. "USAA owned the property, explains Fiesta Texas's Director of Operations Willie Garza. "It was looking to see how to best use an abandoned rock quarry and turned to Opryland for direction in designing and ultimately managing it as a theme park."

The park, which is expected to attract 2 million visitors a year, is divided into four theme areas: Los Festivales, reflecting San Antonio's Mexican and Spanish heritage; Crackaxle Canyon, representing a legendary 1920s boomtown; Spassburg, demonstrating the strong German influence in Texas; and Rockville, saluting the nostalgic high school days of the 1950s.

Within these areas are 15 eateries, 15 rides, including the Rattler--the world's tallest wooden roller coaster--and theaters that host 60 musical and entertainment performances daily.

The heat of the Texas summers was taken into account by the architects of Fiesta Texas. A 10-bed first-aid station and an additional satellite station located within the water rides area of the park were included. These areas are staffed by 25 emergency medical technicians and paramedics, and lifeguards are positioned all over the water park area, which contains rides, slides, and pools.

Eighty-five acres of the old quarry comprise the theme park and park-support areas. The remaining 115 acres are used for guest parking.

Garza is a pro at managing theme park security. After retiring from the Air Force, he went to work for Sea World of Texas for several years and was then sought out by Opryland to handle security operations at its Tennessee facility. After two years in Nashville, Garza was chosen to handle operations at Fiesta Texas.

Most of the administrative team at the new park was handpicked from the staff at Opryland. Among others, Garza brought with him Donnie Martin, Jr., as the new park's manager of security and Stephen Brewer as operations supervisor.

One of the many advantages of being involved in the new park from its inception, explains Garza, was the opportunity to incorporate security into the overall design. "Security was involved right from the start. I acted as a security consultant for the park while at Opryland." Use and placement of alarms, motion detection sensors, and door and window contacts, for example, were all designed in early on.

Garza, his administrative support staff, and 22 security rangers handle the daily security operations at Fiesta Texas. This includes the toll booths, the parking lot, ticketing, theater operations, rides, and the first-aid stations. "We have to keep the ball rolling from the time the park opens until the time it closes every night," Garza continues.

Ride safety is the only major security issue that does not fall under Garza's jurisdiction; it is the responsibility of the maintenance department. "Each morning, maintenance staff walk the track |of the Rattler~ to make sure that nothing has changed from the previous day. And a complete check of the cars is made. Then they perform a sandbag test and run the coaster several times through its paces to make sure it works the way it should," Garza explains. The procedure is duplicated for each ride in the park every day.

APPROACHING THE PARK FROM THE HIGHway, visitors are immediately struck by the daunting limestone cliffs that surround the park. "The quarry's cliffs pretty much protect us," explains Martin when asked about perimeter security. During peak season, mounted rangers ride along the top of the high walls of the cliffs for surveillance purposes.

"We have a one-way entrance into the park for our guests," adds Garza. "When we shut down the park in the evening, we open up additional exit."

Activity in the 7,200-space parking lot is monitored by several CCTV cameras, which are shielded by plastic smoke domes. "This way, an individual cannot see where the cameras are pointed at any given time," Garza notes. "Combining this with our mounted division, we can make sure that we don't have anyone trying to steal or break into guests' cars."

The mounted division's success at Opryland red-flagged it for use at Fiesta Texas. The key is the added height advantage over cars that the horses give the security rangers as well as their mobility to maneuver around parked vehicles quickly and easily. "Also," adds Garza, "on horseback, you're highly visible, so that if somebody comes into the park, he or she automatically sees that security is on patrol. It's a deterrent."

During the height of the season, from May to September, the security staff, like all other departments, is expanded to meet the needs of the increased park attendance. Up to four mounted rangers are on duty at one time. Another 15 seasonal foot patrol rangers are employed to handle peak-period months. Year-round rangers cover armed positions, which encompass perimeter protection outside the park; seasonal rangers are unarmed and cover positions within the confines of the park's gates.

Typical guest-assistance problems in the parking lot are handled by mobile units, since a quarter horse cannot carry the necessary equipment to jump-start a dead battery, change a flat tire, or open locked cars, especially in the sweltering heat of a Texas summer afternoon. The mounted rangers and mobile units work in unison as response teams to make the guests' day at Fiesta Texas a positive one.

Inside the main gate, unarmed rangers patrol all sectors of the park. "What they watch for more than anything," continues Garza, "is guest safety and to ensure that our guests feel that they are in a safe environment." Their duties include handling minor injuries, assisting lost children in finding their parents, and investigating guest thefts.

Why armed rangers outside the park? "It's really for the protection of the property," comments Garza, "and transporting funds. I would venture to say that you could count on one hand the times that we will ever have to draw a weapon. And it's another form of deterrent for the person who wants to come and rob us." But it would not make sense to have firepower inside the park, says Garza. "After all, this is a family theme park. We don't want guests to think that it's a dangerous place."

The rangers's first line of defense is to secure the perimeter of the park. "If we've done our jobs on the outside," says Martin, "we shouldn't need to carry weapons on the inside. Also, with 20,000 or 25,000 people around, you're not going to pull a weapon and shoot at someone fleeing from you. Too many innocent bystanders could get injured."

The security and retail divisions of the company worked together in the design of the park to put together a security system for effective retail operations. One to two cameras are mounted in each game alcove to keep an eye on cash handling procedures of employees. The director of retail operations has his own monitors to keep an eye on his workers. The main security command center has its own bank of monitors, too.

Employees in the retail areas are not only told about the cameras and their purpose, they are also given a tour of the monitors and shown what can be observed. "They know up front that we have systems in place. There are no secrets in this park about what's going on," says Garza.

Plainclothes security personnel are hired during the height of the park's busy season to keep on eye out for shoplifting and internal theft at the many retail establishments.

Personnel access control is another responsibility that falls under Garza's department. All seasonal and year-round employees are issued magnetic stripe ID cards that are bar coded. These serve not only as a time-and-attendance tracking system but also as a management tool.

When employees come to work, they are required to pass their cards through the card readers located at the ranger station, which is at the entrance to the park support area. All information about the employee, such as dates and times of acceptable admission, are already programmed into the computer system. If, for example, a seasonal employee trys to gain access to the park after his or her employment has been completed, access is denied.

After gaining admission, employees must also enter their cards at readers located at their assigned workstations. This system helps in investigating the comings and going of troublesome employees.

For example, let's say an employee checked out of a workstation at his or her assigned time but did not leave the park until two hours later. This system will help the employee's supervisor and the security department track the employee's whereabouts.

Critical areas, such as cash control and the central vault, have extensive access controls built in. These areas are either alarmed or have a combination of alarms and cameras. Alarmed areas throughout the park have door and window contacts as well as motion detectors.

OPENING A NEW PARK PROVIDED QUITE an opportunity for Garza and his staff--and quite a task. More than 2,000 individuals applied for the 22 regular security ranger positions.

"I was not necessarily looking for people with security experience," Martin explains. "If they had it, that was fine. But if they didn't, that wasn't a hindrance. We believe that we can make someone a good security ranger throughout our training and leading by example."

On the contrary, because of the extensive role the rangers play in public relations, Garza, Martin, and Brewer had their eyes open for individuals with good communication and human relations skills. As Garza explains, "Seventy-five percent of our work is public relations. We're not looking for the Starsky and Hutch guys or the guys who think this is nothing but a police job."

Once they got through the mountain of resumes, Martin and Brewer moved through a lengthy interview process to get the pick of the pack.

Martin says that during each interview he tries to go beyond what a resume says about that individual. He asks tough questions like, "What has a manager ever done in the past that frustrated you," and how did you handle it." "When you don't get along with a fellow employee, how do you handle that?" "When you're asked to do something that's not necessarily your job, what do you do?" "What has your supervisor criticized you for in the past?" and "How do you know when you're doing superior work?"

"These are the kind of questions," continues Martin, "that let you know if this person is going to be somebody you've always got to push or if the person is going to be somebody that within a few months you're going to be able to delegate responsibility to."

Martin goes on to explain that since his staff interacts with the public so much, he wants to make sure they are level-headed, can communicate effectively, and can get along with people. Those traits, says Martin, are more important than 20 years of security experience.

Once hired, every ranger is cross-trained in all post positions, and they are all trained together for consistency so that everyone starts off at the same level at the park.

"We're real big on teamwork," explains Martin. By training the staff members together "they all had a chance to learn about each other, their likes and dislikes. Because at that point, they didn't even know which shift they were going to be on or who they were going to have to work with."

The two-week training is thorough, encompassing firearms training, job requirements, standard operating procedures, employer and employee relations, professionalism, teamwork exercises, and report writing.

Bad report-writing skills are a pet peeve of Martin's. "We're not police officers, and we don't want them to be. We want them to be loss prevention officers, and report writing plays a big role in that."

Martin recognizes that actions taken by the security force may someday lead to litigation and a ranger may have to testify in court. By training his personnel extensively in proper report-writing techniques, such as keeping proper notes of witnesses' names and statements, Martin is anticipating the day when the report can be key to protecting the assets of the company.

Martin also believes that employees' professionalism and what they think about their job is evident in their writing. To keep an eye on these factors, Martin has developed a report review loop system. After a ranger writes a report, his or her supervisor reviews it to ensure basic questions are answered. Then Brewer, as operations manager, reviews it. Management examines it not only for conciseness and clarity but also for proper punctuation and grammar usage.

During the two-week training period, Martin has rangers go through an incident scenario to demonstrate to the rangers the importance of note taking. He takes one ranger aside and explains a hypothetical incident in which, for example, a guest is robbed. But Martin does not allow the ranger to take notes.

The ranger is then instructed to convey that information to another ranger, who will convey the information to another ranger, and so on. The last ranger must relate the story as he or she heard it to the entire training class.

"So much of what I initially say is left out or other information is added that doesn't have anything to do with the very beginning," laughs Martin. "The next thing you hear is that a monkey robbed somebody!"

Finally, the rangers are warned against using elaborate words when writing their reports. As Martin emphasizes, "It's one thing to be professional. It's another thing to be flowery." Martin even provides them with a list of phrases to avoid and one-word substitutions to use.

Professionalism is a goal Martin wants his rangers to reach every day. "And the real key to remaining professional is if all of us can get along and work well together and be confident in what we do.

"Taking pride in what we do," continues Martin, "makes it a whole lot easier to deal with that guest that's not having a good day.

The last aspect of ranger training entails what Martin learned from Stephen R. Covey's book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990):

* Be proactive. "All proactive means," Martin explains, "is taking responsibility for your own attitudes and actions. Responsibility breaks down to two words: response and ability." Martin teaches his personnel to respond to situations, not react to them.

For example, in dealing with a guest or an employee, their security training teaches the rangers to remain cool and calm and respond, whereas reacting involves emotion.

* Begin with the end in mind. Martin believes that his rangers should keep in mind each day how a model ranger would handle each situation. Rangers can work toward that goal every day. "By asking yourself, 'How can I be professional?' you've got to create that habit and do it day after day."

* Put first things first. "Learn how to manage your time," stresses Martin. When something urgent comes along, he explains, people tend to react. "That's why we try to go back and be proactive, where you have to say no to unimportant things and say yes to the important ones," Martin continues.

* Think win/win. "Again, it all goes back to interpersonal relationships," Martin continues. "I can't control their family life or their social life, but I try to get across to them, if they'll learn how to think win/win at home with their family and learn how to get along, then they'll get along a whole lot better with the people at work."

* Seek to understand, then to be understood. Rangers have to understand what points of view others have and what their goals are. "Then not only do we seek to understand but we have to be understood. We've got to let them know what our goals are," he continues.

* Think synergism. "The loss prevention department doesn't have its own agenda. We're not here to create a hostile environment or be the police of the company," Martin continues. He believes that by teaching his staff to get along together, that interpersonal communication will overflow into other departments.

* Sharpen the saw. Rangers should go over what they did that day, that week, and that month, and ask themselves if they managed their time well enough or got along with employees and guests as they should have. It's a review process. "Rangers ask, 'Could I have done something differently? Can I do something better?'" Martin explains.

Arriving at the stables, long after the sun had set behind the rolling Texas hills, the ranger is dismounted from his steed, brushed him down, and led him to the stalls to rest. Tomorrow would be another day of madness--on roller coasters and water rides. Security would be ready.

Joan H. Murphy is associate editor at Security Management.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:amusement park security
Author:Murphy, Joan H.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Words:2973
Previous Article:Who's on the line?
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