OKLAHOMA CITY, OK: Six Flags aggressively countered the claims of amusement-park-oversight crusaders in late January by releasing a pair of third-party scientific studies it sponsored that vouch for the safety of roller coasters.
Amusement parks have come under fire over the past few years from those concerned about some highly publicized ride injuries. Kathy Fackler, whose son was hurt on a Disneyland ride, led the charge, and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) sponsored the as-yet-unsuccessful National Amusement Park Ride Safety Act.
Six Flags blamed the media for not investigating information supplied by reformers, particularly statements about roller coasters creating more gravitational force than space shuttles, explained Six Flags' PR VP Debbie Nauser. Roller-coaster g-forces last only nanoseconds. "That makes all the difference as to why we don't have to put riders in space suits," she said, adding that Six Flags' response hadn't received as much ink as the company would have liked.
Six Flags sponsored studies by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and Exponent Failure Analysis Associates, who vouched for the safety of amusement-park rides, and concluded that roller coasters don't cause brain injuries. All parties involved signed agreements guaranteeing the researchers' independence. "We didn't want the study to have any sort of specter hanging over it," Nauser explained.
An ER doctor led a press conference releasing the reports at the National Press Club, and Six Flags simultaneously posted a half-dozen documents on its website addressing the issue. The company peppered its five-page, footnoted release with references to everyday activities that create more g-forces and/or produce more injuries than amusement-park rides, like sneezing and skipping rope. Six Flags also detailed plans to report injuries to various organizations.
The studies got wide national press coverage, and Nauser noted that the results would remain on the company website for future reference by reporters and park patrons.