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Who’s responsible for the public’s safety at theme parks?

Business such as Disney, community organizations and governments can take all sorts of actions to help keep us safe, but ultimately each individual is responsible as well.

Who’s responsible for keeping people safe in public?

When I started working at Walt Disney World as a college student, the first lesson I learned on my first day in the “Disney Traditions” training class was about safety. At every attraction I worked in the Magic Kingdom, I had to pass a safety test about that attraction before I could get on the schedule. Cast members who didn’t make their required safety checks or worked in an unsafe way would be reprimanded or even terminated.

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But it is not enough for theme parks to be safe. To earn the public’s business, parks have to feel safe, as well. In the Disney+ series “The Imagineering Story,” Walt Disney Imagineering President Bob Weis talked about this lesson he learned from Disney Legend John Hench.

“The meaning of the parks is very simple — you’re going to be OK,” Weis said. “By that he meant it doesn’t matter what’s happening in the world, it doesn’t matter how screwed up your life is, or whatever that might be. It’s reassurance.”

But it is possible for people to feel too safe? I think it is.

A decade after I worked at Disney, I started tracking injury accidents at theme parks worldwide for my website. The data I found suggested that people were safer inside the parks than they were in their cars going to and from them. But many injuries and even deaths happened inside the parks because people either had health conditions they weren’t aware of, or acted in ways that violated a park’s safety instructions.

Those people might have thought that nothing bad could happen to them. But it did.

Business such as Disney, community organizations and governments can take all sorts of actions to help keep us safe. But, ultimately, we each bear responsibility, too. Whether it’s remaining seated on a roller coaster or staying six feet away from people on the street during a pandemic, each of us is the last line in our own defense against danger.

We get in trouble when we take safety for granted. We also get in trouble when others around us, including the businesses and government leaders we rely upon, take safety for granted, too.

I suspect that we are in this mess today because a lot of people failed to accept their responsibilities, from Chinese officials initially covering up the outbreak to U.S. officials downplaying the threat.

Hey, at least Disney closed its theme parks before it was ordered to do so. Imagine how much worse this might have been if it hadn’t?

I hope this pandemic puts to rest the selfish notion that if people just look out for themselves, everything will work out for the best. We are all part of a community and bear a responsibility not just to ourselves but to those around us. And that goes not just for us but for the elected officials and business leaders we must hold to account, as well.