Response to Alton Towers Smiler crash

So, anyone in the UK will probably be aware by now that there was a crash on the Smiler ride at Alton Towers on Tuesday. It’s horrible to think these things happen and I am glad that my back gives me a bona fide excuse for not going on rollercoasters. But I wanted to say something quickly about a headline I read: Alton Towers Smiler crash: 999 call made 11 minutes afterwards. (You can read the article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-33011347.

The headline is there to point out the length of time between the incident being reported and the emergency services being called, the subtext being that 11 minutes was too long. Working as part of Twickenham security has given me some idea of how emergencies are dealt with and the protocols that go with them, and actually I would argue that this was not an action that should be particularly frowned upon. Yes, it is true that 11 minutes is a long time in an emergency situation, but it’s not that Alton Towers did not deal with the incident during that time.

I don’t want to go into detail on security and safety procedures because they are site-specific and also something that is best kept within the company so as to not worry people unduly. However, incidents are always called into event control first and especially with something like a rollercoaster, it is often hard to tell how severe injuries might be and how much external help is needed. Events and attractions legally require a specific ratio of staff to customers and I’m pretty sure also first aiders on site, with fairly rapid response times. Even last night at the Summer Ball there was an event ambulance, just in case anyone got really ill or injured. Anyway, it’s often suitable and appropriate for incidents to be dealt with by staff on site – minor injuries for instance that require first aid, administered by the professionals who are paid to respond to such incidents. Their response would probably take a minute or two from the incident being radioed in – you have to remember that these theme parks are large places so it’s perfectly normal for it to take a couple of minutes to gain first aid response. On arriving they would need to gain access to the incident site, probably the first people to be able to examine the incident because the other ride operators still need to be doing their jobs managing the queues and preventing further operation of the ride. Say the clock has now hit 7 minutes, taking into account the struggle to access the tracks where it took place. The first aiders now need to access the potential need for emergency services, maybe this can be done in 2 minutes, and they then relay the information to control, who have the authority to call 999.

In my depiction of the scenario I estimated a 10 minute response to the crash. Surely it’s not unreasonable for Alton Towers to try and resolve an incident using their own staff rather than calling for ambulances and the fire brigade for something that did not require them. Maybe you might say that they could have recognised that it was a serious incident before even sending a response team, but no-one can tell. Only the ride operators would have been aware of the number of people potentially involved and the fact that it occurred suggests that they did not know there was another car on the tracks so it must have been confusing and distressing for the team.

Yes, 11 minutes is a long time, but to take immediate action to ring the emergency services and then find they are not needed and therefore wasting time when they could be attending more serious incidents could be life threatening.

I promise I’ll get back to posting stuff on work and my course and such like soonish, I just was compelled to write in response to that article.

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