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Oct. 4, 2022

BONUS: Hurricanes, Chaperones, and Shootings

BONUS: Hurricanes, Chaperones, and Shootings

While parks have reopened after Hurricane Ian, Knott’s tweaked their chaperone policy, and Kennywood reels from shooting during Phantom Fall Fest. Follow along to our Hauntathon:

While parks have reopened after Hurricane Ian, Knott’s tweaked their chaperone policy, and Kennywood reels from shooting during Phantom Fall Fest. Follow along to our Hauntathon:


Philip Hernandez: From our studios in Los Angeles and Tampa, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. I'm Philip, I'm joined by my co-host Scott Swenson of Scott Swenson Creative Development, and Scott, we're so happy to have you and seen here, and that you survived the hurricane! Although I'm not sure you were in town for the whole thing. 

Scott Swenson: I actually wasn't in town for any of it. So, it's funny because everybody kept contacting me, "are you alright?" "Yeah, I'm fine." I was in Indianapolis at the time and actually got stuck there for pretty much an extra two days because of the storm. However, at my home, which is also my office and my home studio, everything was fine. We lost power for about 12 hours, and then had some branches go down and that sort of thing. But we really, really lucked out, at least in this part of Tampa. 

There's significantly more damage, for those of you listening around the country or around the world, I'm sure you've seen images of Fort Myers, Port Charlotte, and Santa Belle Island. There was significantly more damaged South of where I'm located, and even Orlando got hit pretty hard for being a city that's in the middle of a state as opposed to being on the water. It's a hurricane, you know? It's the way things go, and I think everybody, the only thing you can do for a hurricane is have a plan in place and be able to alter that plan as the path changes.

For those of you who live in an area where hurricanes aren't necessarily a thing, the best way to describe it, for me, is somebody said, "It's sort of like being stalked by a turtle serial killer. You know there's a bunch of damage coming, and it's coming towards you, just very, very slowly. And, you never know when it's going to turn right or when it's going to turn left." And that's exactly what happened.

But I am back, I'm finally back in town. It's delayed a few things, but none of my projects that I'm working on got damaged, destroyed. Even for Undead in the Water, they even moved the ship and then put it in a different berth, and now it's back and it's going great guns. So, we dodged a bullet here in Tampa, but my thoughts and well wishes go out to all the folks who are South of us, and the folks in Orlando who still don't have power. Of course, if you don't have power, you're probably not listening to us, just thinking.

Philip Hernandez: Oh, maybe, I don't know, you got your cell phone usually.

Scott Swenson: Yeah, but after a week your cell phone dies.

Philip Hernandez: That's true. Well reports from the other attractions, most of the attractions, the theme parks in the area, reopened on Saturday. So, I think everything seems like it's mostly up and running in terms of the large entertainment, the theme parks, the Halloween Horror Nights. There were phased openings for some of those. I think everybody missed at least one day, as far as I could tell, and then some people missed two days or, you know, whatnot. But like you said, your shows you are working on are back up and running now. 

Scott Swenson: Zoo Tampa was delayed doing their preview by a day, and when they reopened, which would have been their opening night, they reopened it as a "preview night". It was packed because, you know, families had been stuck in the house with their kids and no power for the last three days, so they wanted to get out and had a great time. So, yeah, things got hiccupped. There were a couple of attractions that took an extra night off, let's just put it that way. 

The reason that some of the areas, or some of the events, had issues is, people evacuated, you know? Here in Tampa for example, people evacuated, and they would evacuate to like the other side of the state, or up to Atlanta, and they weren't planning on coming back until after the weekend. So, even the places that did reopen, I can almost guarantee you that a lot of them had reduced casts and reduced staffing because they were waiting for the folks to get back from the evacuations.

Scott Swenson: So, you know, people have to take into consideration that it's not just, "Oh, the weather is fine, we should open." t's all the infrastructure that may or may not be intact. It's all of the staffing that may or may not still be there because they were threatened. I mean, Tampa, for example, we thought sure it was heading this way, and if not for what we'll call a last-minute right turn when it was coming up the Gulf, those devastating images that we've seen come out of Fort Myers would have been here in Tampa. In fact, at one point in time, the absolute center of the cone was running through my backyard. So, I'm kind of glad. I'm sorry for the folks down South, I can't say that enough, but in a very selfish way I'm glad that we kind of dodged a bullet there.

Philip Hernandez: Well, I don't want to use a bullet segue, that would be inappropriate. First, let's go into the, there's a chaperone policy change over at Knotts. We're going to tie two stories together, one from Knotts and one from Kennywood because they both deal with chaperones and safety and security measures. So, the Knotts changes to Scary Farm Chaperone policy, I feel like it's been big news in our sector, both in themed entertainment and in Halloween, a lot of discussion around this. The basics of it is:


The existing Knott’s Berry Farm chaperone policy requires all park guests ages 17 and under to be accompanied by an adult age 21+; however, the new Scary Farm chaperone policy (effective Sept 29, 2022) states that one guest aged 21 and older can chaperone up to five guests under the age of 18.

Philip Hernandez: Five minors. So, basically, one adult to up to 5 minors. In addition, and also affected this weekend, any chaperone, any adult, who has the full 5 minors will be given one complimentary admission to use for that night. Generally, the feedback I've seen about this policy is that it is positive. Overall industry folks have been seeing that as a positive thing to give somebody that. My, I think, personal reaction to it is that does not sound... I mean it's kind of like the DD program, I think it's positive overall, but also, I'm like, "gosh, I would never want to do that." I could never imagine chaperoning 5 kids, that feels too stressful to me, to have to be responsible for five minors through like a Halloween event all night. That feels like work, like way, way too... so, I think the ticket is like the least they could do kind of thing, like they have to pay for parking. I feel like there would be... that's kind of the least they can do to chaperone that many minors. Scott, what do you think?

Scott Swenson: Well, we talked a little bit about this before on the show, and I agree with you.

I think that it's impossible, really, for one person to chaperone 5 17-year-olds if those 5 17-year-olds want to go out and raise a little bit of hell. But again, it's that, "can we hold someone legally responsible?" That's still to be determined. We'll see how that turns out. You can arrest a 17-year-old, but in most cases, you can't prosecute them. But you can prosecute the person acting in the parental role, the 21 plus. 

To be completely honest, there's been discussion over the last, well I've been in discussions with different clients over the last two years about the possibility of making their Halloween events simply 21 and up, just, you know, across the board. There's also been discussion about going away from the content that would draw this kind of audience. Because! Because they're spending a ton of money and time on fights and litigation, injuries, and guest issues, so it's eating away at the bottom line. That's not what you're really going to see reported anywhere, but it is happening, and it always has been part of the Halloween industry. You have to put it into your budget that we know we're going to have X amount of trip and falls, X amount of fights, X amount of... but it's just gotten out of control, and apparently it's ramped up significantly over the last couple of years. 

In my opinion, I can't say this is a bad thing, but I think it's lip service, and I think it is a middle-of-the-road solution that probably won't really affect the situation much. Because, quite honestly, you can get 5 17-year-olds to find a 21-year-old that will take them for free and then go off and do their own thing.

Philip Hernandez: Yes. So, you don't think that the free ticket will change anything?

Scott Swenson: I don't think the free ticket will change anything. I don't think that the policy itself will change a whole lot. I think it's a first step that will look good for people who come to the event to say, "look, we're making a change." But I'm not sure how effective it will actually be. I hope it is, and I hope it's effective, but as you say, you're assuming that the 21-year-old is actually going to take their job seriously, +21-year-old, and I can't guarantee that that's necessarily the case. I can't guarantee that it's not, I'll be fair, but I can see that could easily backfire. 

Again, it's finding that balance. Haunts are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They've got a strong audience base in the mid to late teens, and they don't want to give that up completely. At the same time, they've got to find ways to get the violence in the parks under control. So, I give credit where credit is due, that they are making an attempt to figure out something and they are making it more difficult for these roving bands of minors to get in and raise hell, and not the fun, scary kind. It's interesting because I'm not 100% certain how much it's going to help. We will see. Kudos to them for trying.

Philip Hernandez: Yeah, I do kind of agree that overall I think that it's more of, again, I don't know the exact word. Basically, again, this isn't with minors, I think we talked about this tiny bit, like it's kind of just in general there's always a percentage of people that want to raise hell in some way or not. It doesn't have to be kids. So, I think that's more the problem. It's like there's always been 1%, you know, of whatever. Even if it's 1% of your crowd, or even less than 1%, it's back to the classic argument of, are you going to punish everybody else just to try and get that 1% to not do something crazy? They're going to find a way through almost anything, if they really want to, they're going to find a way. 

Scott Swenson: To go back a little bit into theme parks and Halloween history, theme parks, especially theme parks that were primarily family-based during the day who did a more adult-themed Halloween event at night, their biggest concern originally was that it was going to be the alcohol that was infused, or in some cases, saturated throughout the event, it was going to be the alcohol that caused the fights. So, they made the proper preparations for that kind of thing. They put those safeguards, and they've been developing those safeguards over the years. Well, that's kind of why the 21 and up crowd is not really the focus now, because they've got that group under some sort of control, it's now the younger kids who kind of fell under the radar of the various and sundry programs and rules and regs that they put in to help prevent the drunk folks from getting into fights. 

So, now the sober kids, the sober teens, are getting into fights and they're having to kind of backtrack and go, "whoa, wait a minute, we hadn't thought about this." I think the same logic could be said, "well, once we get the 17-year-olds, then you know we're going to have to find something that's going to keep the 60-year-olds from fighting." I don't know. I think that the reason the focus is on kids is not because kids have never been a problem before, it's that their focus has been on the alcohol-induced fights and the focus has been so strongly on that that this other area, as this went down, this went up, that sense of equilibrium was always going to be trying to obtain the proper amount of violence, I guess, in a haunted attraction. I know that sounds weird, but the focus has been on the 21 plus for so many years that now they're recognizing, "oh wait, it's not just them."

Philip Hernandez: Yeah, that's a great point. Well, and it kind of segues a course into our next related story, which is there was a shooting last week at Kennywood during their Phantom Fall Fest. The basics are that a shooting injured 3 guests, two of which were 15 and one was a 39-year-old male. So, actually, there's kind of like shockingly few details on how the shooter evaded security, who the shooter was, that whole thing. There hasn't been too many details released about that yet. There are no life-threatening wounds, it seems like everybody that was shot was recovering, so things were like they were grazes, nobody died as a result of it. Which, thank goodness, you know, that would have been terrible.

In response, you know, Kennywood kind of issued a basic statement, nothing out of the ordinary. What they said though, in terms of going forward for security, they're going to do a stronger collaboration with local police. It seems like they're going to try and bring in more local police for that. They're also limiting bag sizes and they're requiring chaperones for guests 17 and under. That's kind of why we paired these together because, you know, Knott's chaperone policy preceded the shooting, and then Knotts change it to the ticket thing, and then this happened. So, it seems like we're already seeing other parks are kind of picking up on, that might try to do a chaperone policy of their own. I've also seen a lot of discussion in our networks of independent haunts even considering a chaperone policy as well for their haunts. So, it's something that a lot of people are looking at.

Just a point here though, it's not like there was no security for this. So, there was a shooting that occurred, people are unsure how they got a gun in because there was normal security scanners, there was the normal metal detectors, and the bag checks. So, right now they're looking at limiting the sizes and putting chaperones, but they're not really changing any of those other policies because they were in place when this happened. No one really has said yet, that I could find, maybe it's come out since this recording, if you're listening later, it might be revealed, but nobody really has figured out how the gun got into the park. 

There is a pretty good theory that was shared by Coaster, the Coaster Radio folks who know the property, and I actually want to get Scott's take on this, because I think this is a pretty good theory. Their theory is, basically, kind of akin to what we were just saying about people, if they're determined that there's a way. Their point is that there's plenty of places around the park where the fence is only 6 feet high, so you could just toss a bag over the fence, you just toss a firearm over the fence to someone inside that's waiting inside and grab it and go. We don't know the details about the shooter either, we don't know how old they are or whatnot, just that they were wearing a COVID mask to, I guess in this case, obscure their face, not for the COVID reasons, and then a hoodie, but they did look younger. It wasn't like people said it was an older person. So, I think that's a pretty solid theory, Like, yeah, I've been to plenty of parks where it's just a fence and you just can just toss... Again, here's the thing, you can put all the security you want at the gate, but if a dog can get over your fence, my Husky can jump 9 feet, you just like toss a bag over there.

Scott Swenson: Yeah, it's so funny, because I had not heard of this until Philip mentioned it just before the show, and just so you guys know, quite often, Philip and I will mention things and then say, "wait, let's not talk about it yet, let's talk about it on the show." So, what you're getting here is actual conversation between the two of us. The first thing I thought of was, well there's clearly a chain link fence that needs patrolling.

Philip Hernandez: Right.

Scott Swenson: Because in working in multiple theme parks, either directly for the park or as a consultant, there's always a place where you realize, now the issue used to be if people wanted to sneak in they could come. It's amazing how when you do a nighttime event people think that all of a sudden nighttime makes them invisible. In some cases, it does, not so much that you can't see them doing it, it's that the people who are normally there to watch what's going on are off watching other things, like the entrances and exits to haunt mazes, just saying. But yeah, that's exactly what it sounds like to me, and I wouldn't be surprised if that person didn't even come over the fence themselves. Not that it was a bag tossed over the fence, that they were hoisted up, they went over the fence and got in, and raised havoc. Has there been any reports that they were actually abducted after it happened?

Philip Hernandez: No

Scott Swenson: So, we don't know whether they got away or not? 

Philip Hernandez: Correct.

Scott Swenson: So, the chances are good they had an exit strategy as well.

Philip Hernandez: Yeah, it could be the same spot. Up and over and back out.

Scott Swenson: Perhaps the same spot, exactly. Part of the reason we may not be hearing something is that it is possible that they found a weak link in the fence, so to speak, maybe literally, maybe figuratively. But again, I know Kennywood as well, I don't know it like the back of my hand, but I've been there, and yes, it is in a location that could conceivably have fence areas that are climbable. You may have to throw your jacket over the barbed wire at the top, or the razor wire at the top, but if you think about it, nothing is impenetrable. There's always a way to get in, I hate to be cliched, but where there's a will, there's a way. If somebody wanted to get in and raise hell, unfortunately, it was somebody with a gun and they absolutely desired their 15 minutes of fame and they found a way in.

Because people are going to say, "well, that's great, Scott, now you know how they got in. But what's the solution?" I think the challenge...

Philip Hernandez: We were just talking about that. It's the same thing we were just talking about, like if they want to do it... If somebody wants to do this, really, what do you really do? I mean now you got to go in and get to fortify your structure. I don't know, this is terrible, I'm sure going to get flagged for this, the thing in my brain I think about is back when I had my old dog who passed away and we moved him to a new house, he was a Husky, and he was very, very wild. He wanted to get out, and it took us so long to fortify the house because first, he was jumping the fences, well they were 6-foot fences, so we had to raise them to 9 feet, and that's a lot to raise a fence to 9-feet. OK, well then it was any place he could dig he was digging under, and then it was he was doing this bounce. When we put when we bring the trash cans in to keep them off the street, he would bounce off the trash cans and get up and over. Then it was, he would trick people into opening the gate. 

This is the same thing I think about it, I'm like, well then you really, if you're really going to try and prevent every possible way, you have to go through all these things. What if they know somebody and they could get someone to let them in? What if they distract the security? Or what if XYZ? Like, oh my God. Then he could open the latch, so if we forgot to deadbolt it with a separate lock you know just going in out, he would open the latch, and it's like, my God, things are endless.

Scott Swenson: I think that you know the solution then is you can only fortify so much. So, what other options do you have? In this particular case, not Philip's dog, but in this particular case of someone sneaking into a park to raise hell, I think the idea of, "if you see it, say it," has to be reinforced amongst all of the staff. I know that, again, sounds so trite, but the worst thing that can happen to somebody who's trying to raise hell is they get seen before they get a chance to do whatever they set out to do. Another thing that will help, I think, is the unquestionable presence of uniformed police officers. You got to put in the budget, because off-duty cops don't mind coming to these events because they make really good money when they're off duty. Finding a team and building a relationship with that team so that they can help your internal security, and they work together. Then everybody who takes a ticket, clicks at turnstiles, works behind a cash register, or sells sodas on the streets or on the sidewalks keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior. 

We live in a world where weird stuff is going to happen, stuff that, when I was younger, it happened, but it was just so rare and now it's so commonplace. So, we just have to be more vigilant. There is no light switch that's going to turn off this problem, and that's why I said, when we were talking earlier about the Knott's policy, I think that's definitely a step in the right direction, it's certainly something to try. I hope it works. I hope it discourages the low-hanging fruit, but in this particular case in Kennywood, if they came over a fence, it's not going to do a thing.

Philip Hernandez: Exactly, exactly. It wouldn't have done anything, exactly. 

Scott Swenson: So, I think that there is no one solution and we need to continue to find multiple solutions, and solutions that are right for your park. I'm sure Kennywood, if we're talking about this theory, I'm guessing that they've already long ago thought about it and have done a perimeter walk to go, "wait, where could they possibly come in? And where could we possibly not only reinforce but put an additional camera?" This is the one that a lot of people don't really think about but, "where can we either add or remove additional landscaping so that we can either make it more difficult to get to the fence? Because now they have to climb through a thorn bush or get rid of something so that it's completely visible and not hidden." I know the storyteller in me, the theme park guy in me, wants to say, "well, we want to hide that ugly chain link fence." But at the same time, if it's where the shooter gets in, to heck with making it pretty, let's make it safe first.

Philip Hernandez: Also, to your point too, there's really no way of knowing once everyone is in, because I've been to Knott's since after the policy came in, and we've been there for the Scary Farm event, and there's plenty of groups where everybody in the group was definitely a minor. I'm just saying. That's the other piece of this, there's no identification, right? You don't know that they are being chaperoned actively. So, that's the other thing too. If you're coming in, not in that way, you know...

Scott Swenson: The button I want to put on this is, with the information that I have, it doesn't appear that Kennywood has done anything wrong. It doesn't appear that Knott's has necessarily done anything wrong. I want to make that really, really clear.

Philip Hernandez: I totally agree, that's a good point.

Scott Swenson: This is an industry-wide problem and it's an industry-wide problem that is going to require the industry to continue to share best practices and the industry is going to need to change this mentality somehow. I'm not sure what that answer is, but I give credit where credit is due to Knotts. I hope this works. I'm skeptical, I'll be honest, but I hope it works, and I hope it works for Kennywood because they're both great parks, and I'm hoping that they can continue to make them safe places for people to have a good time.

Philip Hernandez: I agree with that, and I do think it's important that people keep trying, because that's how we're going to share best practices. You can't share best practices if nobody tries anything new, and in that way, I think it's brilliant that these people are trying something so that we can have these discussions. You know, if nobody was doing anything different it would just be the same conversation.

Next thing I did want to talk a little bit about some reports that, of course, we've been doing our Hauntathon, we've been going out, both of us, to events and working on events. Some of the reports I've been hearing when speaking and reporting to haunters is, again, the same type of, I don't want to say puzzling, but just the same type of stuff we had talked about in terms of attendance. 

Well, if we're to sort these into categories, obviously Disney and Universal are doing swimmingly. We've talked about that, we've talked about Disney sold out on their Halloween events in Florida, and sold out in California, et cetera, et cetera. Also, the mainstay, the big players in markets seem to be doing better this year as projected, but some of the, I'd say, mid-tier and then smaller attractions are doing less well for some of their scary events. We talked a little bit about that ahead of the show. We've also seen this year, of course, more family-friendly offerings come out like Hauntoween, for example, and they're open every day in October from 4:00 PM to 10:00 PM, and this year they've launched a new facility in New Jersey as well. So, they've kind of expanded on that. Then on the flip side of that, like House of Spirits, the cocktail experiences and the immersive kind of things, those are also expanding to multiple cities around. So, Scott, closing thoughts.

Philip Hernandez: Well, I got to say that so much of the work that I'm doing, not all, but a lot of the work that I'm doing, is for more family-friendly stuff. I will tell you that for years I was the haunt guy who said, "no, I want it bigger and scarier and nastier." The truth of the matter is the pendulum has hit that. We can't go any bigger scary and nastier without, actually having horrible, horrible things happen, because we can't top ourselves anymore. So, the pendulum is starting to swing back. I do think that COVID had something to do with this. I think that people learned how to spend time with their families and weekly game nights became a thing again. So, now they're looking for more and more family things, because as Philip said, the big players are doing great, they're holding their market share.

What's happening though is the family-friendly zoos, if the FECs, aquariums, museums, that sort of thing who are doing family-friendly stuff, are getting gangbuster crowds. I've seen that happening with all of the clients that are doing family-friendly stuff. So, you know, maybe the pendulum is swinging back, and we have to find ways to create new within that realm, even the big players. Things like Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens, they are even going to more of a party vibe and less of a terror vibe. We are seeing that to a certain extent with Universal with Weekend, and that sort of thing.

Philip Hernandez: The lagoon show, and The Weekend, yeah.

Scott Swenson: I think that we're going to see, for a while, that we have entered the years of the family-friendly. Those of you who like diehard blood, guts and gore Halloween, don't panic, because what this is really doing, this is training the next generation of Halloween lovers. So, hopefully, this will be the time where we can get that great audience that's going to continue to want to grow and see more and more and more and more.

Obviously, we've gone over, but you get Philip and I talking about Halloween, and we obviously are going to go over. We've gone over a little bit. Hopefully, you enjoy the show. Hopefully, you enjoy our honest and frank conversation, we certainly hope so. Until next week, when you will join us and come back, and bring like at least three friends because we want to continue to expand, on behalf of Philip Hernandez and myself, Scott Swenson, this is Green Tagged Theme park in 30, and we will see you next week.


Scott SwensonProfile Photo

Scott Swenson

Owner/Creative Director

For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been a storyteller, bringing stories to life as a writer, director, producer and performer. His work in theme park, consumer events, live theatre and television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been providing impactful experiences for clients around the world. Whether he is installing shows on cruise ships or creating seasonal festivals for theme parks, writing educational presentations for zoos and museums or directing successful fund raisers, Scott is always finding new ways to tell stories that engage and entertain.