I love taking my boys to amusement parks. Except when it turns scary for real, that is. This past fall my boys and I were enjoying an evening at a local amusement park. The park was all decorated in a fun fall theme to celebrate the fall season and Halloween. Pumpkins, ghosts, skeletons, monsters, haunted houses…it was so awesome. But we were shocked when the entire park, and I mean everyone, was forced to evacuate. I was scared, nervous, I admit it. We weren’t sure what was going on, but going through this ordeal has taught me I need an Emergency Preparedness Checklist for Visiting an Amusement Park with my kids…just in case. I’m sharing this with you so you can also be prepared if you encounter this situation yourself. I hope you never need this and I hope I never do again either.
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When fake scary fun turns into something that is scary for real…
We had been having a fun time at the park. We were all enjoying the decorations and the scary Halloween characters at the park, but that night suddenly turned scary for real. It was not so much fun anymore when the fear instilled in us became real. I’ll take fake fear any and every day, thank you very much! I didn’t want to panic and scare my kids, but without any indication of what was really going on, I’ll be honest, as a parent, I was a bit scared. I tried not to let myself get too terrified, but it was a true challenge. What I learned from the experience is that I need to be prepared because a crisis or emergency can occur at any time, so going forward, I need a plan.
So, I made one. See my emergency preparedness checklist at the end of this post.
This is What Happened at the Park…
My kids are different ages, so they were, of course, interested in different rides. I allowed my middle son to go on another ride with his friends while I stayed with my youngest son, so we were in separate parts of the park when the crisis occurred. Everything was good and everyone was having fun. We all had smiles and we were making great memories.
I watched my youngest son’s face with joy, he was super pumped to go on the bumper cars. However, while we were in line for the ride the attendant told us the ride was closing because the whole park was closing. I was like what? How can this be?
We were confused because the park wasn’t scheduled to close for over an hour and a half yet. There was no thunder going on in the sky, no rain, no storms were looming. There was nothing that seemed worrisome like some impending bad weather or a tornado, so I knew it wasn’t shutting down for weather reasons.
This scared me. I feared it couldn’t be anything good at all.
My first thought was my middle son was at a different ride and I needed to contact him like now. I was so thankful he had a cell phone on him.
(Be prepared for emergencies in your car. I like this one.)
Tip #1: Always make sure your child brings their cell phone to the amusement park if they have one. Make sure it is charged to full capacity for use in case of emergencies. Bring a portable charger to keep phones fully charged up.
My middle son called me and so I was happy his first instinct was to do so (also, I was never so grateful he had a cell phone, safety is my number one reason I believe my kids need cell phones). He informed me that he and his friends had been told the park was closing too. I said we had been told the same. The workers had informed my son and his friends that everyone needed to evacuate the park. Like, leave the park now. We had not been told to leave yet, so this was scary.
I told him to wait with his friends near the entrance until I could reach them. We didn’t have far to walk, but I knew it would take at least 4-5 minutes to reach him. He agreed.
The evacuation was calm.
Everyone was calm near us as we all walked toward the entrance. No one was screaming, panicking, or dashing about, plus we didn’t hear any announcements or scary things like gunshots. It was quite calm in fact. It was rather odd to me, and I was fully expecting an announcement to direct us. No announcements came.
I relaxed because I hadn’t seen anyone running or freaking out, so this gave me the reassurance that nothing horrible was happening. However, I exchanged glances and whispers with the other adults we were with. We were all skeptical that the calm meant everything was okay. We discussed potential scenarios for the early park closing in hushed tones, we didn’t want to scare our younger kids, so we kept it hush-hush. I mean, really, it seemed okay, but, it was rather ominous, too odd to be okay.
We soon found out more…
Panic Had Broke Out Elsewhere in the Park, and near my middle son…
My Son’s Experience:
Although it was a calm environment where we were evacuating the park, my son and his friends had a completely different experience.
My son called me again to give me an update as we were walking towards his location. He said they had witnessed a crowd running in a full panic and all of those people ran out of the park in a mass mob. I cringed. And hard. My son and his friends had followed the mob too, and unfortunately, they were now outside the park. This made me gasp.
My son and his friends had left the safety of the security gates!! Panic flooded me.
He continued on with his story…once they were outside the park, he reported they had first started to bolt towards the car in a mad dash, but then they turned back to stand near the entrance because there were police officers there. (thank God for police officers!) I felt a giant sense of dread as I realized my son and his friends were outside the park without me. They were now in the area where potentially aggressive and dangerous people could have been milling about, people who had not necessarily gone through any security at all being that they were in the parking lot.
Again, thank goodness for police officers.
My panic was a tiny bit lessened when he said they were standing by police officers at the entrance of the park. I told him to stay put and not move away from the officers while I rushed out of the park to find him. I knew I would not relax until I was with him.
Once I reached him, I was so relieved because I saw him and his friends were okay. Big. Giant. Sigh. For me.
Not a good feeling for a parent or anyone in charge of other parents’ children.
I wanted to hug him, but, with friends present, I knew that wasn’t cool, so I didn’t reach for him. But, it hurt me not to.
Sometimes being a parent is very scary.
We all headed to the car while my son filled me in what they had witnessed inside the park, and while outside the park. They had been walking to a ride when they came upon what appeared to be a crowd around a fight. They had just kept walking, thank goodness, but once they got to a ride, they were told the park was shutting down, so they headed back towards the entrance of the park. Back towards the area of the fight they had just left. That was where he had called me for the first time.
He explained that they had rushed out of the park because the whole crowd did, like as a mass unit. He and his friends just followed along. Once outside the park, they witnessed a police officer chase a teenager or young adult and stop her. Then they placed her under arrest and zip-tied her wrists together.
Gasp! Something a parent wishes their child never actually witnesses in person, and he just had. I silently groaned. I hated it.
This was supposed to have been a super fun evening and it had been ruined.
Tip #2: Designate a meeting spot both inside the park AND outside the park just in case everyone is forced to evacuate the park.
We had designated a meeting place inside the park, but not outside the park. It never occurred to me that I would need an extra backup meeting place. Once people left the park, they did not allow anyone back inside the gates, so my son and his friends were unable to meet me at the original meeting spot we had chosen. They were stuck outside the gate, so their first instinct had been to run to the car.
Tip #3: If kids are alone or get separated from you, tell them to stand near security or any police officers they find. Or, have them stand as near as possible to the entrance and/or park workers if no security or police are present. Police officers should be the first choice.
Remind them to be aware of what is going on around them so they can make good choices and stay near any type of security workers. My son and his friends had chosen to stand by police officers. I was never so grateful for his good decision-making skills as I was then. He could have easily decided to stand elsewhere, but he chose the police. I was like, “Way to go, kid!”
But he admitted he and his friends hadn’t known what to do. I hadn’t prepped him with any ideas because I had never expected this to happen. Now I know better, and having been through this, I now know how to prep him better for such a crisis in the future. I hope he never needs it again though. I think talking about a crisis before it happens will better equip my kids when they are unsure what to do in a scary situation. They will have problem-solving skills to draw from when making decisions in my absence.
(Be prepared for emergencies while biking).
Tip #4: Remind kids to not panic and just blindly follow a crowd.
This is the old “if everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”
Heck no. Don’t do it.
Of course not, but, remind them of this so they don’t panic and just follow a mob. And to remember to be aware of their surroundings and stop following a mob if a better situation or choice arises (like police officers standing outside the entrance).
Remind them to try and adhere to the designated meeting places if you all get separated at an amusement park. Have a back-up meeting spot, one that is not at the car far from security, park workers, or officers.
Tip #5: Expect the unexpected and try not to panic.
So, we made it to the car and got in line to leave the parking lot. But we didn’t move. Like at all. For over an entire freaking hour:( We waited and waited and waited, but our line never moved an inch. We were near the rear of the parking lot because that’s where we always park being it’s near a grassy area for our picnics. We saw no police where we were. No amusement park workers. No people other than those who walked to their cars and got in, only to wait in non-moving car lines just like us.
Then a helicopter appeared.
We saw nothing until a helicopter come with a searching spotlight. I did not like the appearance of that copter at all. It meant they were looking for someone or making sure another bad someone didn’t suddenly appear. It circled round and round, coating and stroking the entire parking lot over and over again with its sweeping motion. It flew back and forth across the large parking lot for like a half hour. We never saw anyone running, shoving or panicking.
My son and his friends checked their phones to see if anything was on the internet about this, but they found nothing. Part of me wondered if the helicopter was news or if it was the police.
The other adults I had been with called me. They had been parked closer to the entrance so they could see more than we could. They informed us there were police officers scattered about and people were starting to panic and jumping curbs with their cars to get out of the parking lot. But, still other than that, no one was moving. This did not make me feel any better at all.
Later, we found out the traffic jam up was from parents who had received panicked calls from their kids and were flooding the parking lot to come and get their kids, Cars coming in had slowed our leave, so the end result was no movement of traffic in the back of the lot where we were.
Finally, we had some movement.
Finally, our line began to move after about an hour and a half, our line started to creep and we began to inch forward. As we came near the entrance, we saw police officers standing around. There were police cars from multiple surrounding cities, plus, fire trucks were completely blocking traffic on the highway coming from the left. Cars were lined back for about a half of a mile waiting to get through or to get into the parking lot.
I was thankful to not see mobs, though later, I heard some people had seen mobs and panicked people fleeing, running, scurrying about.
We were allowed to leave the park without being stopped and began our hour drive home.
It had been a long night, but I was happy to be on the road.
It all turned out fine, but at the time, I fully expected myself to go into a full panic as something horrible unfolded before our eyes. But nothing bad ever happened. However, afterward, we heard so many rumors.
Some said there were shots. Others said a rape. Then others were reporting it was gang violence and fights among certain ethnic groups or teens. Other people were reporting a knifing where the victim died. Some it was soft gangs. Some said it was a group of unruly teens. Others reported multiple fights broke out at the same time around the park.
But we never could find an answer other than reports of a few people who were apprehended and some fights that had occurred that night. I was shocked that the park did not make an announcement on social media or the news. However, they did send out an email to season pass holders, like me, that they were stepping up security at the park. When we went back a few weeks later (which I was a little nervous about), the park had placed random barricades of fenced off areas in open areas. I’m sure this was meant to deter people from open areas for fighting, gathering, or to prevent mobs from having free reign to run in a panic.
I was just thankful we weren’t harmed in any way when we went back.
It was not a fun experience and, honestly, we contemplated not going back, but I also knew we’d been going there for years without a single problem. I’d been visiting the park since I was a young child, so we decided to trust their beefed up security and all was indeed fine.
But even though they strengthened their security, I felt as a parent that I needed to do more to ensure the safety of my family the next time I went, just in case.
I came up with an emergency preparedness checklist plan for us to follow the next time we plan to go to the amusement park.
Emergency Preparedness Checklist for an Amusement Park: What to bring & What to Talk about with Kids at the Beginning of the Day
- plan ahead and bring charged up cell phones or even walkie-talkies if an older child doesn’t have a cell phone, older kids often want to go off on their own, make sure they have a way to communicate with you when they do
- bring a portable charger to charge up a phone if needed
- pick a meeting spot both inside and outside of the park in the event of separation
- plan to touch base at intervals to make sure the older child who is separated from you is doing okay
- tell kids to not panic and just run unless that is literally the only choice in the situation, but do tell kids to be aware of their surroundings at all times
- tell kids to stay inside the park until you reach them unless they are told to leave by police officers, security, or amusement park workers that they need to leave
- remind kids to stay near police officers, security, or park workers if kids are separated from parents during an evacuation or crisis
- remind kids to stay away from large crowds that appear to be gathering around any type of fighting, don’t go closer out of curiosity
- leave any areas where people are fighting or are yelling and seem about to fight, resist the urge to stay and watch, and leave the area immediately if weapons are sighted
- wear bright colors rather than darker colors so parents can more easily spot their kids if they get separated
- Parents: always make a mental note of the clothing your kids are wearing that day and it never hurts to carry pictures
- tell kids the rule is to keep calling parents or texting updates if they become separated from parents/trusted adults in a crisis situation
- tell kids to listen to park workers and follow their directions
- remind kids to not venture out into the parking lot alone where there may be people who haven’t gone through the park security
- expect the unexpected and try to roll with the punches and not panic, remember, it isn’t always going to end badly even if you fear it will
- tell kids who are separated from you to stay together and never separate from each other
- bring a small flashlight just in case it’s needed
- And, having extra snacks in the car never ever hurts!!!! You never know when you could get stuck in your car for a long time.
I hope you find this post and this emergency plan list useful. At least you will have this in the back of your mind if you ever encounter this type of situation yourself now that you have read this. It’s scary. I hated it and I was kind of freaked out about it for a few days after it.
If you have any ideas to add to this emergency preparedness checklist, I’d love it if you shared it in the comments below.
Stay safe and enjoy life with your kids.
Other tips for day trips or travel with kids:
Talking to kids:
Copyright ©2019 Julie Hoag writer. All Rights Reserved.
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