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Recreational Risk Management and Security Control


The need for effective risk management has become evident to leisure-service managers in various settings. As more and more people have visited large national or state parks, forests, and recreation areas, the risk of injury or death from environmental hazards has increased. Controls that will protect participants from their own unawareness of the natural environment or from behavior that invites injury or death, must be better supervised.

Risk management and accident prevention is what recreation and park mangers must organize with the community. Vandalism prevention and law enforcement is common within buildings, equipment, supplies or other physical aspects of the facility. Park and recreation managers have found it necessary to develop more sophisticated approaches to educating the public and going against criminal acts through strong law enforcement measures. We must view settings where accidents have occurred and re-develop accident prevention and control procedures. This paper views the many different aspects of recreational activities and facilities as a whole, rather than focusing on one recreational service in our communities.

Developing Risk Management Plans:

Simply developing safety procedures or inspecting equipment is not sufficient. Authors Nilson and Edginton argue that a comprehensive risk management plan that systematically attacks each level of the problem is essential. They define risk management as a management tool that is directed toward reducing or preventing financial loss resulting from handling risks associated with operation of a park and recreation department . (1. Nilson, Ralph A., and Edginton, 1995). An example on page 2-A shows the performance on the areas of positive and negative performance and serves as the basis for remedial action, on the recreation and park agencies. (2. National Recreation and Park Assoc, 1996).

A model of the risk management process includes five stages: (1) identifying sources of potential risk, such as programs, facilities, leadership or supervisory practices, or participant behavior; (2) identifying actual risk occurrences and agency policies for handling them through records, interviews, and questionnaires; (3) evaluating the probability of accidents occurring in given programs or sites and their probable degree of severity; (4) determining appropriate methods of handling risks by taking steps to avoid them entirely, or reduce or transfer liability for them; and (5) developing risk control processes through educational programs, safer work or program procedures, better supervision and inspection, and similar activities. Ewert describes risk management plans as involving an initial determination of the degree of possible risk, the decision to proceed with or terminate a hazardous program activity, and the development of appropriate ways of modifying or controlling an activity to reduce risk levels. (3. Ewart, Allan, 1996).

Accident Prevention and Control Procedures:

Five specific guidelines are essential to the reduction of accidents and the management of risks in any recreation setting. It starts with (1) systematic reporting and record keeping, (2) facilities inspection and hazard abatement, (3) participant safety procedures, (4) staff training and goal setting, and (5) emergency procedures.

Systematic reporting and record keeping:

Records are necessary to maintain an accurate picture of trends in accident locations or trouble spots and their causes. Frequencies that go beyond normal or predictable accident rates will become evident and call for corrective action. Furthermore, if control techniques are effective in reducing incidents, record keeping will reveal such improvements.

It should be noted that, while this is a logical process, it cannot be totally effective in preventing a freak accident (one that may occur extremely rarely and thus have no record of frequency of occurrence, and yet when it occurs is devastating in its effects). For example the capsize of a heavily overloaded fishing boat in a storm with the resultant loss of many lives may happen very infrequently and thus not appear in systematic reporting records. Yet, extreme care must be taken to prevent such accidents.

Facilities Inspection and Hazard Abatement:

In a playground setting, facilities inspection would include all equipment, such as slides and swings or climbing equipment, to ensure that it is in good working condition and not hazardous in any way. In a park setting I might involve all areas imposing special risks. Speed limit signs, rock slide warnings, barriers, thin ice warnings, or similar prohibitions should be posted to protect participants against natural hazards. In urban parks and recreation facilities, architectural features such as walks, steps, buildings, and other structures must be inspected regularly. Poor visibility, inadequate barriers or walls, accessible high-voltage transmission lines, inadequate storage facilities for flammable liquids, low clearance, blocked exits, or poorly marked emergency circulation routes are example of problem that must be identified and corrected. On page 3-B is an example of an Incident Survey Update of Recreational Accidents. (4. Attarian, 1998).

Participant Safety Procedures:

There should be a regular, consistent approach to providing all participants with an understanding of the inherent risks in outdoor recreation participation, whether active or passive. They must be helped to understand the nature of the risks that are involved, unsafe acts and their consequences, and hazard to be avoided. This can be done through posted rules, briefing sessions held in campgrounds, regular supervision and warning by rangers, or similar methods. Strict policies for boating practices, for example, should be enacted and enforced. In playgrounds or other urban recreation settings, leaders, supervisors, and volunteers consistently teach safety awareness and should reinforce this with thorough supervision and enforcement of rules. Also a Task list should be performed to evaluate how often a park facility is maintained. See page 4-C for an example. (5. Parks and Recreation, 1996).

Staff Training and Goal Setting:

Risk management can be effective only if all staff members are aware of it, familiar with important safety and accident prevention principles, and committed to maintaining a safe environment and program.. This can best be done if safety and accident prevention are made important items in staff orientation and training and if they are reinforce in meetings, evaluations, and other management procedures. See page 4-D for an example of standard and evaluative criteria for parks and recreation. (6. National Parks and Recreation Assoc., 1995).

Staff members should be involved in setting safety goals and objectives, developing reporting and recording systems, and protecting both the public and themselves. It should be noted that employees may run a higher risk of injury than visitors because they are in the recreation setting on a full-time basis and because they must become involved in emergency or lifesaving procedures, such as fire fighting or rescue operations.

Emergency Operations:

First aid, accident, and other emergency procedures should be clearly laid out and known to all employees. In community centers, fire alarm procedures and building evacuation should be practiced at regular intervals. On playgrounds and in other outdoor recreation areas, there should be precise directions for handling physical injury, sunstroke or heatstroke, drowning, or similar accidents.

In facilities that cover large areas in which the risk of injury is substantial, such as mountain-climbing territory or ski slopes, there should be regular patrol procedures, arrangements to monitor the progress of climbing teams, and the capability for reaching and evacuating the injured in case of avalanches or other emergency situations through the use of casualty sleds or snowmobiles. In facilities that may hold many participants or spectator, such as theater, stadiums, dance halls, bowling alleys or skating rinks, a public-address system to make emergency announcements, an alarm system, telephones to summon assistance, and other means of communication are desirable. Evacuation or escape routes for visitors and employees and access for vehicles such as fire trucks, ambulances, or tow trucks should also be kept clear.

Staff members should be given instructions regarding appropriate public relations procedures after an accident or other emergency situation. First aid supplies and arrangements for transportation should be available in all settings. Today, many departments include cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and Heimlich maneuver training as part of emergency procedures or first aid training courses. Christiansen concludes that park and recreational facilities planners and managers, must incorporate these safety and emergency provisions in their physical and administrative plans for the welfare of recreationists and employees in park area. These considerations are both preventive and reactive. While hazard control and safety planning attempt to prevent accidents, contingency support facilities, procedures and personnel training for emergency situations are also essential parts of a park plan . (7. Christiansen, 1996).

Specific Areas of Safety Concern:

A major area of concern to recreation and park managers is accident prevention in children s playgrounds. A key actor is the type of playground equipment used, since poorly designed, located, or maintained equipment frequently is the cause of serious injuries. Certain pieces of equipment are generally viewed as more risky; a recent 3-year study of playground equipment by the British Standards Institution revealed that falling from or being hit by swings accounted for 40% of playground injuries; jungle gyms were responsible for 42%, and slides were associated with 30%. (8. Urban Innovation Abroad, 1995).

Numerous professional or safety-related organizations have developed guidelines for the design of playground equipment to minimize such risks. The British study, for example, developed a design code intended to minimize potential hazards dealing with materials and components, such as exposed surfaces, protective rails, and clearances between parts, particularly swinging, rocking, and rotating items.

Particularly when children with physical or emotional disabilities use a playground, possible learning experience and that accidents be prevented. Examples of guidelines for playground safety is on page 7-E. (9. Recreation Leader s Manual, 1995).

Skate boarding has become a popular and accessible activity, with elements similar to both skiing and surfing and far less expensive for participants of various ages. There are believed to be more than 30 million skateboarders in the United States today, and the annual manufacture of skateboards has been estimated to be a $1 billion business annually, with numerous commercial and some public facilities specially designed for this activity. Skate boarding is a relatively high-risk activity. In 1997, an estimated 306,000 victims sought treatment in hospital emergency rooms because of skateboarding accidents, and skateboarding was the cause of 45 deaths between 1995 and 1997.

In many areas skateboarders have come into conflict with pedestrians, cars, bicycles, and the police, with riders on downtown sidewalks or streets occasionally being cited for reckless skateboarding . Some communities have banned skateboarding in specific locations, and others prohibit it entirely.

The popularity of the activity, a substantial number of skateboard parks have been developed by commercial or public agencies. Even in such settings there is a considerable risk or injury, since skateboards have no braking or steering equipment and must depend on body movements by the rider to stop and steer the skateboard; furthermore, one of challenges of this activity is to do difficult or dangerous stunts. To prevent injuries, parks that are affiliated with the American Skateboard Association require participants to war knee and elbow pads and helmets. Track monitors are on hand to prevent horseplay or dangerous moves that could endanger the skater or other participants.

Many other specialized areas of concern regarding safety and accident prevention might be cited. Examples are, (1) those dealing with a particular type of facility (such as amusement parks), (2) those dealing with a type of activity (such as skateboarding), and (3) those dealing with natural hazards (such as lightning and heat strokes).

Prevention of Vandalism and Crime in Recreation Settings:

Vandalism and the prevention and control of antisocial behavior represent related aspects of management responsibility, particularly in large recreation and park departments or commercial recreation organizations. Clearly, damage to buildings, plants, and equipment beyond the normal wear-and-tear of daily operations is a serious problem for many recreation and park agencies. A research team that conducted a major study of vandalism for the city of Boston concluded that it was costly not only in dollars spent on maintenance, repair and replacement, but also in terms of lowered staff morale and, perhaps most important of all, in facilities which have been made less attractive to the public. (10. Managing Vandalism, 1998).

In many urban communities, park benches, fountains, lights, and other fixed pieces of equipment are regularly demolished. Park buildings are broken into, ravaged, and sometimes set on fire. Playgrounds and miniparks are often dominated by alcoholics or drug addicts or by youthful gangs that extort money from other children and frighten away law-abiding would-be park user. Graffiti and broken windows are common.

Improving Security and Preventing Vandalism:

There should be a comprehensive and coordinated plan of attack for vandalism which includes, (1) understanding the problem by gathering full information about vandalism and other antisocial acts, (2) reviewing alternative methods of dealing with the problem, and (3) devising and putting a strategy into action.

Understanding the problem involves gathering as complete a picture as possible of current conditions. Focusing specifically on property directed vandalism, for example, it would be essential to carry out a systematic observation and inspection of recreation and park settings and review vandalism reports and statistics of facility repair and equipment replacement. In this way an accurate picture of current levels, types, and locations of vandalism could be drawn.

All personnel should be required to file damage reports, using a standardized form that details the nature and extent of the damage, as well as other pertinent information. This encourages maintenance personnel and supervisors to note vandalism immediately and act on it rather than accept it as inevitable. It also should have the effect of speeding up requests for repair, which in turn helps prevent the buildup of minor damage and the creation of an atmosphere in which facilities are more seriously vandalized. Finally, it helps to provide the raw data necessary for a clearer understanding of the problem and its financial costs.

A second stage of analysis is to examine individual cases selectively throughout a recreation and park system. It will involve a review of condition and damage reports, site observations, and interviews with staff members and possibly participants, nearby residents, and community leaders or business people. A number of specific approaches may be used to prevent or control vandalism, including the following:

1. Planning and design of facilities geared to minimize damage or misuse.

2. More efficient and prompter maintenance and repair to prevent damaged structures or equipment from remaining in such condition over a period of time, which tends to encourage additional vandalism.

3. Improved staffing and supervision of facilities and fuller programming and scheduling of areas and facilities

4. A positive program of community relations that will develop support and cooperation in preventing vandalism.

When citizens take a direct responsibility for helping to operate and maintain facilities, and large numbers of residents of all ages are involved in meaningful programs, vandalism is much less likely to occur. For example, the city of Mississauga, Ont., Canada, established a task force on vandalism to determine how to reduce the level of deliberate destruction and related crimes in community facilities. Representatives of numerous organizations developed a report with a series of 14 recommendations, which led to the formation of a special community group called Counter-Act to carry on this fight. Among the recommendations, which were designed to work through the school system, were the following:

1. To sponsor a student awareness program, using available films and other visual aids, to impress on the student body the impact vandalism has on their community.

2. To develop an incentive program, in which a special fund would be established to be used for student activities in certain schools, provided that vandalism did not otherwise deplete the available money.

3. To hold a student poster contest in elementary schools emphasizing the need to control vandalism.

4. To install improved lighting and electronic detection devices in areas heavily damaged by vandals.

5. To hold meetings with residents in areas surrounding facilities that were threatened by vandalism, to enlist their support. (11. Scott, 1997).

A local newspaper and shopping mall in Mississauga, in cooperation with the city s Recreation and Park Department and the Counter-Act organization, sponsored major cleanup days in which hundreds of children and adults collected litter in several city parks. These efforts heightened public awareness of the problem and had a major impact on the community. (12. Scott, 1997).

Park Police:

The overall problem of law enforcement extends beyond the need to prevent deliberate damage to recreation areas and facilities. It involves the need to prevent theft,

Arson, personal assaults, and other crimes in any recreation setting, from secluded wilderness sites to crowded urban areas.

One of the most active security forces to have developed sophisticated techniques in this area had been the U.S. Park Police, administered by the National Park Service, which provides law enforcement in urban national parks in Washington D.C., New York City, San Francisco, and many other cities. Policing of these areas is accomplished by the use of horse-mounted officers, motorcycles, scooter, helicopter, boats, dogs, and foot patrols. Parks in urban areas require a specially sensitive type of police officer who is able to adapt readily to the needs of the park visitor, and on the other hand, act firmly but with courtesy to those who attempt to violate the law. Officers must easily adapt from dealing with hard-core criminals to assisting people in need. (13. Langston, 1998).

Officers frequently sponsor Special Olympics programs or work with juvenile authorities and the courts in helping youthful offenders redirect their energies into more socially constructive areas. Well-trained dogs are used by both the U.S. Park Police and their counterparts in Canadian national parks; The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has a

Professional K-9 division. They are extremely helpful in curbing criminal activity and as part of search and rescue teams.


In preventing accidents and crimes in our recreational community facilities, it takes participation not only from staff members, but community volunteers also. An important reason for the increase in serious injuries in outdoor recreation is the much greater volume of park visitors and outdoor recreation involvement. The increase of leisure time and the increasing accessibility of most park locations, parks are undergoing a future shock syndrome, unless our community gets more involved. Technological advancements have increased accidents and incidents in parks significantly. The community should take into account such factors as, (1) regional and park-specific differences based on the type of park management dictated by enabling legislation, (2) the number of people using the park, and (3) the types of activities engaged in by the public, and (4) whether or not more security control is needed within the recreational community facility. Vandalism and crime prevention are based on working with people, and sound human relations will help control many of the problems that exist in the community. Patience, diplomacy, and resourcefulness are keys to success in most such situations.

To go further into research, the topic of Risk Management or Vandalism can be broken down even more into separate discussion, instead of being grouped as one major topic. Vandalism can be discussed in various ways of how to prevent it and provide a sound public relation in order to give the community a sound use of a park setting.


One of the most important functions of leisure-service managers is to ensure that participation in recreation and park facilities and programs is as safe as possible. That natural hazards and program related accidents are avoided, and that controls over vandalism and other forms of criminal behavior are maintained in the leisure setting.

The logical solution to solving such difficulties is to develop plans for risk management or control of vandalism and crime. The extent and nature of the problem must be assessed, appropriate methods for dealing with it must be selected, and these must be put into action, with careful supervision and systematic evaluation. Policies, procedures, and appropriated assignment of personnel play a role in this effort, along again with the community relations and educational efforts that get at the roots of the difficulty and help remove its causes.

To carry out fair and thorough enforcement of the safety rules and regulations, with emphasis on a positive and pleasant approach to the public, stressing education and helping to build positive attitudes, rather than an unenjoyable experience, can be approached to the public, where they are willing to come back again to the recreational setting and have more of an involvement for a better, safer community.


1. Nilson, Ralph A, and Edginton; Risk Management , Parks and Recreation, August 1996, p. 34.

2. Graph: van der Smissen, B; Standards and Evaluative Criteria , National Recreation and Park Association, Arlington, VA, 1996.

3. Ewart, Alan; The Decision-Package , Parks and Recreation, April 1996, pp. 39-41.

4. Internet Directory: Lycos: N.C. Accident Report. http://www2.coastalnet.com 1998.

5. Conway, K.L.; Case Report , Parks and Recreation, January, 1995.

6. Graph: van der Smissen; Standards and Evaluative Criteria , National Recreation and Park Association,Arlingon, VA, 1996.

7. Christiansen, Monty L; Planning and Design for Safety and Emergency Provisions , Trends, Times Mirror/Mosby College Publishing, Winter, 1996, p. 13.

8. Council for International Urban Liaison; New Safety Standards to Decrease British Playground Hazards , Urban Innovation Abroad, Washington, D.C., July 1995, p. 1.

9. Recreation Leaders Manual; North Carolina, Department of Parks and Recreation, 1995.

10. Parkman Center for urban affairs, A guide to Reducing Damage in Park and Recreation Facilities , N.C. Park and Recreation Department, May 1998.

11/12. Scott, Ian W.; Vandalism: It s nothing to smile about , Recreation Canada,

WCB Publishing, December, 1997, pp. 23-28.

13. Langston, Robert E.; U.S. Park Police meet Urban Challenge , Trends, Goodyear Publishing, Fall 1998, p.25.

Guidelines for Playground Safety

1. Check apparatus and equipment daily. If it is not in working condition or is dangerous, place it OUT-OF-ORDER and notify the office immediately.

2. Teach children the correct methods of using the apparatus and insist that they be followed.

3. Prepare, post and enforce simple rules of safety for your playground.

4. Know where accidents are liable to happen and be alert to these areas.

5. Enforce ordinances involving dogs and the riding of bicycles on the playground to the best of your ability.

6. Motor scooters and other types of motorized vehicles are not allowed on parks or playgrounds. Contact police at once if this occurs.


1. Do not permit crawling or running up slides.

2. Do not allow children to stand up when sliding down.

3. Do not permit children to slide down backwards.

4. Do not permit hanging of feet over sides when sliding.

5. Caution children to observe that all persons are clear of the chute before they slide.

6. Do not permit wrestling on the ladder. See that they wait their turn.

7. Generally do not allow children over 12 years of age to use slides.


1. Do not allow children to jump or slide off while another person is up in the air on the other end.

2. Do no permit bumping seesaws on the ground.

3. Caution children to keep their feet from under the board at all times.

4. Do not permit standing on seesaws.


1. Do not allow more than one person on a swing at a time.

2. See that persons use swings that are for their size.

3. Caution children about standing in swings and do not allow jumping from swings.

4. Caution children about running in front of swings.

5. Do not allow children to run under swings when they are pushing another person.

6. Do not permit children to climb on swings.

Climbing Apparatus

1. Do not allow children to stand on top of any climbing equipment.

2. Caution children about holding onto horizontal ladders, chinning bars and jungle gyms with both hands.

3. Do not allow overcrowding.

4. Be sure that persons who are waiting, stand far enough away so that they will not be struck by the feet of a swinging child.

5. Do not allow pushing, shoving, or dangerous stunts.

From Recreation leader s Manual, North Carolina, Department of Parks and Recreation, 1995

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