Safety Begins with Me

Safety

Okay, there have been mostly magical posts so far, but it’s time to get real here for a minute:

In light of hurricane Irma and what appears to be yet another tropical storm following her path, we need to have a discussion about safety… BOO! This is boring (I know)! But for some reason, safety seems to be a sticky concept for a lot of our guests.

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I have to be honest, as a Cast Member I often felt like a parent continuously urging my child not to touch the hot stove top. I would repeat it and repeat it, but the child didn’t not acknowledge me; they just kept going for it! Sometimes the kid reached it and immediately realized what they did was wrong. Other times they would do it and then tell all of their friends who try it too. Now everyone’s burned and I’m just confused how we got here.

It is baffling to watch how quickly and readily fully grown adults will put themselves and even their own children in harm’s way. And I know most are saying- What? Duh! I would never do that. But I think there’s something in the air at Disney (pixiedust, perhaps?) Everyone begins to assume this false sense of invulnerability, and it is up to Cast Members to keep a close watch.

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Here’s the tricky part though- balancing safety with courtesy. Telling that child “you’re going to burn your hand,” but not upsetting them about it in the process. If you’re a parent, you’re probably laughing at me. Who cares if they cry because you yelled at them? They need to know not to hurt themselves! Right?

Well, around the parks we agree. Safety will always come before courtesy. Although Cast Members are always trying their best to guide and direct in a courteous manner, if their safety or that of a guest is in question, safety takes priority- ALWAYS. No questions. Period. That sense of invincibility that people feel doesn’t just happen. Cast Members make Walt Disney World feel safe, whether our guests realize it or not. Simple things like directing traffic, ushering people off of queue ropes, telling kids to sit down on a ride- for some reason guests often feel these are inconvenient requests. To me, they seem like pretty simple rules to abide by. Yet those who yelled at me most as a Cast Member, were the people who said I wasn’t being magical… while potentially saving their lives.

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From a Cast Member’s point of view, I can only do so much. I can say, “Please don’t climb over the bleachers.” I can say it again. I can say it again. I can say it again. I can keep saying it and saying it, and you can bet if that guest is not acknowledging me, my voice is getting increasingly louder until I get some kind of response to know that they’ve heard my warning. Usually, after the fourth or fifth time, I finally get an angry look and a comment along the lines of “YEAH! I HEARD YOU THE FIRST THREE TIMES!” To which I stand baffled- ok, if you heard me, why did you not acknowledge me and get down from the bleachers as I was requesting? Grown-ups, I’ve learned, have a much harder time admitting when they’ve done something wrong than kids, and it astounds me.

The reality is, trying to balance safety with courtesy often ends in a Cast Member being yelled at. We generally can’t explain in detail the reasoning behind why we give our safety spiels, because we are trying to do five other things at the same time. We just hope that responsible adults around us will hear our pleas and comply, knowing that it’s in their best interest to do so.

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AN EXAMPLE:

One day, early on working at Safaris, I was running the wheelchair accessible dock by myself. That entails directing in the truck, loading, unloading, parking wheelchairs/ECVs/strollers, and sending the truck off at exactly the right time for the next one to come in. There’s a lot going on up there, and it’s almost always cram-packed.

Not a few minutes in, as I was finding my groove, a baby tropical storm cracked open from the sky and began thundering down. I did not have my raingear, nor was there anyone who could get me any. Frankly, it wouldn’t have made any difference. With the force and volume of the rain, my boots would have been just as full with water. But it didn’t help that where I had to stand to pull in the vehicle, I was being slammed with water off the top of the truck’s canvas, as well as that waterfalling from the roof above me.

Naturally, guests did not want to leave the platform, but I did my best to encourage them to seek shelter in the little village of shops just across the bridge. To my surprise, a good number obliged. At first. Still, several gave me a stern, “we aren’t moving until this lightens up.” I told them that I understood, but if the dock was too crowded, I would have to ask them to leave because this is an emergency exit.

Now, typically, with summer rains in Orlando, they do let up pretty quickly, but this rain wasn’t going anywhere. Two more trucks unloaded at my dock, and now we were getting really crowded. No one could back out their wheelchairs if they wanted to. I get a call that the attraction is to stop taking guests because the roads have become too flooded, and that the remaining trucks are all driving straight back to drop off. The trouble is, I can’t send this truck off at my dock, because too many people are too close to the safety line. I plead for them to continue to a rain shelter in the village, over and over until my throat is going dry. I get many looks of disdain and “Can’t you see it’s raining?”

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To which I would love to reply in my drenched khakis and puddled boots, “Sorry, it was a bit hard to see through the cascade of water pouring down my head.” But instead I nod in understanding, and try my best to explain where they can go to safely wait out the rain nearby.

Behind me, I hear another truck pull up waiting patiently to take the place of the one in front, but I still can’t send it off until guests get far enough away. I keep urging and no one moves. The trouble is though, it’s not just the 36 guests on this other truck waiting to get off. Where my platform sits, it holds up traffic for the entire operation if I do not keep it going. There are about 1,500 guests on the ride at any given moment, and right now, they are all trying to evacuate. If I can’t get this truck moving, everyone’s in unsafe conditions because of me. Over and over I plead with these people to move. Then, to make matters worse, up the EXIT ONLY marked ramp, several more families, about 20 persons in total join us looking for a place with coverage. I continue to explain trying to be heard over the pouring rain, “THIS IS AN EMERGENCY EXIT. I NEED EVERYONE ON THIS PLATFORM TO PLEASE CONTINUE ACROSS THE BRIDGE TO THE SAFE RAIN SHELTERS IN THE VILLAGE. IT IS NOT SAFE FOR YOU TO BE ON THIS PLATFORM. PLEASE DO NOT STAND HERE.” Literally not one soul looks me in the eye or acknowledges me. Being dry is more important to them than the safety of the 1,500 other guests on board.

After making this announcement five or six times to no avail, I admit defeat. I call desperately for backup to help me in ushering them out. Naturally, as all traffic had come to a standstill, a leader was eager to get up there. But even so, by the time someone reached me, the guests had FINALLY begun to exit of their own accord. Luckily she stuck around though, because someone came back immediately to file a complaint with a leader about how I was highly inconsiderate for raising my voice and that my “unmagical” behavior had ruined their vacation.

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Fortunately, that time I had some amazing leaders who immediately had my back without question.



More recently, I was pretty lucky to have flown out of Florida literally the day before Irma hit. The stories I was hearing from my friends at home were not all that surprising though. Several had encountered guests who were enraged about their Sunday night Halloween party being cancelled (and refunded I feel should be noted). WHY??? They would ask, demanding a leader. Hmm… Good question.

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I feel like a hurricane should probably explain itself, let alone one of the biggest in history. But maybe they felt their ponchos would do the trick? Who can say?

I can’t imagine a world in which someone yelled at a firefighter for pulling them from a burning building. The trouble is that often the dangers in Walt Disney World aren’t as obvious as a giant flame. Like putting a hand to a hot stove top, they are easily preventative, yet generally unknown until experienced. Cast Members don’t want you to have to experience that pain though. Danger can be avoided if guests just listen to the people who work around it day in and day out. They are not trying to take the fun out of things, or inconvenience you. Cast Members just want to make sure everyone gets back to their hotel in one piece so they can come again tomorrow ready for more magic. We got you, fam.

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Thanks for tuning in. Keep those ears up!

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