Are theme park rides breaking down more often?

Theme park expert: Rides have more computers than space shuttle

By Erik von Ancken - Anchor/Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - On Sunday a Local 6 viewer recorded the moments after he was rescued from the new Escape from Gringott's simulator ride in Universal's Diagon Alley. He said he and several other guests were trapped inside their cars for more than half an hour.

Last week, a passenger on board Universal's Transformers ride tweeted pictures of firefighters rappelling down to the ride car after it was stuck on an elevator.

Just days before that, passengers posted pictures of firefighters helping people off of a Disney World monorail with ladders and ropes when a severe storm caused a sudden shutdown.

But Local 6 Theme World Producer Ken Pilcher said it's not what it seems.

"Most of the time when these things break down they're really not breaking down as much as something that has tripped a sensor which is to stop you from getting hurt," said Pilcher. "A lot of it is we're hearing about it more often. Everyone has a cellphone and everybody likes to tweet from the theme parks, 'I'm at Disney, I'm at Universal.'"

Pilcher said rides, especially the newer ones like Transformers and Escape from Gringott's, are extremely complicated and have many built-in safety sensors.

"The most simple ride at Disney has more computing power than a space shuttle did. They all have tremendously complicated safety systems, systems that sync audio and animatronics, and all these systems have to work together," said Pilcher. "It's a very complicated ride system. They have a lot of things that have to be synched up exactly perfectly or you'll get sick because it's 3D, if it's slightly off, we'll get physically sick."

Pilcher, who has spent years researching theme parks, rides, and the behind-the-scenes, said the newer rides, like Gringott's, will work out the glitches.

"It's not surprising that it's having problems, people forget Forbidden Journey, the other big Harry Potter ride, for six months it broke down too because it was another complex ride system," said Pilcher. "Now it runs extremely reliably."

The Orlando Fire Department, in charge of all of the rescues at Universal Studios, told Local 6 that each ride is unique and has distinct protocols for rescues. In an emergency, an incident commander on scene will make a decision based on the urgency to remove passengers from a ride and may adjust those protocols.

Pilcher said when there is no emergency, ride operators prefer to attempt to restart the ride first, assuming it's safe to do so, rather than having passengers use ropes and ladders and stairwells.

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