Calypso Waterpark: A Waterslide to Peril?

Summer is a time to embrace the short-lived warmth, have fun, and generally relax with friends and family. There are many outdoor activities that summer has to offer; ranging from food festivals, city tours, concerts, and etc., the list goes on. But when it gets too sweltering and an ice-cream cone does not cut it, luckily for Ottawa folk, Canada’s “biggest and best theme park”1 is a short commute away. Calypso Waterpark is best known for its hours of family friendly entertainment, on-site restaurants, and cool water activities. All fun and games aside, Calypso has recently been on the radar for safety issues, the first was a serious injury of a patron. The park is facing 20 charges since 2012 regarding not following protocol when patrons are injured, not having properly trained staff, and not having equipment up to safety standards.

As a result of the lawsuit, summer day camps and other programs have been put to a halt. The Technical Standards and Safety Authorities (TSSA), has finally cracked down on the theme park after a yearlong investigation. The TSSA has decided to fine the company with a substantial $1 million per charge laid. Calypso’s legal representative, Lawrence Greenspon, claimed the TSSA’s charges are “a surprising abuse of power”2 in their press release dated July 16th. Owner and operator, Guy Drouin, has a similar stance in regard to the many charges laid against the waterpark. Drouin claims that since the parks opening in 2010, they have worked closely with TSSA and Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU). The TSSA’s main task is to oversee operations in regards to the waterslides, whereas EOHU is more involved with managing pools, basins, water quality, restaurants, and lifeguards. According to the owner, the park has undergone several on-site inspections and would not have been able to remain licensed and open unless they were following rigorous safety guidelines and procedures. Calypso appears to be defensive about the situation and attempting to justify the problem by reminding patrons if it weren’t safe, they would not be open.

This is a classic example of crisis management. Every company, big or small, at one point will face an issue that gets them into trouble. There are a few techniques that are well known in the Public Relations world in handling crises. First in crisis management, the number one factor to consider is time. Time is not always on your side. At the onset of a company disaster, the first thing to do is to release information to the public to ensure their general safety. By doing so, a company will help to deter any rumors that may degrade their reputation further; which in turn will help to address the issue, help to reduce the amount of lost revenue, and most importantly restore its reputation. In crisis management, there is no precise structure to handling a disaster, but there are a few guidelines.

Since trouble is unpredictable, it is up to an organization to be prepared and expect one. The first step in crisis management is establishing a crisis management team in the “pre-crisis phase.” During this phase, organizations should seek to minimize factors that could lead to a crisis. This involves a PR team that is able to prepare a plan and put it into action if necessary. The main duties of a crisis management team are to:
1. Prepare a crisis management plan and update it yearly
2. Establish a skilled team to deal with crises
3. Train the members of the team and conduct exercises to test their skills and to ensure they are up to date
4. Draft pre-approved messages from legal personnel as a template in case of the rise of a crisis
This first phase is crucial as it prepares organizations for unexpected disasters. At this time, an organization is able to test their templates and perfect it in case an emergency arises.

Next, the “crisis response” mode is the time for a management team to put their plans into use. At this particular stage an organisation must follow these crucial steps in order to maintain public safety, target its main stakeholders, and to save face.
1. Notifying internal sources as well as the public
2. Monitoring systems
During this phase, an organization is expected to make a public statement about the issue on various platforms. Throughout the crisis, the company must ensure that any facts being distributed are true. There are a few well-known tactics to dealing with these factors. Due to the fact Calypso’s issue is still new; they are currently in this phase. As mentioned earlier, one of the most important parts of crisis management is maintaining a good reputation. The following chart showcases some effective strategies organizations use to uphold their credibility when crisis strikes.

Technique: Attack Accuser
Explanation: Confronts the person or groups claiming there is a problem with the organization

Technique: Denial
Explanation: Crisis manager assures there is no problem

Technique: Scapegoat
Explanation: Blames a person or group outside the organization for the problem

Technique: Excuse
Explanation: Minimizes organizational responsibility by denying intent to harm or claiming inability to prevent events that initiated the problem
• Crisis was a response to someone’s actions
• Lack on information on events leading to onset of crisis
• Lack of control of events leading to crisis
• Had good intentions

Technique: Justification
Justification: Minimizing the perceived damage

Technique: Reminder
Justification: Reiterates to stakeholders the good work organization has done in the past

Technique: Ingratiation
Justification: Praises stakeholders for their actions

Technique: Compensation
Justification: Offers money or gifts to victims

Technique: Apology
Justification: Indication the organization takes full responsibility for the crisis and asks forgiveness

This is essential because during this phase, the press and the public can easily be misinformed and facts can easily be misconstrued. It is vital that an organization have a central message and attempt to remove any false information to ensure credibility.

Once the crisis has blown over, the final stages of crisis management are:
1. Assessing the situation
2. Finalizing and adapting key messages
3. Analysis, this is seen as a learning period.
Since Calypso is still in the midst of their fiasco, we are unable to determine if they have learned their lesson as of yet. On the bright side, Calypso was able to respond to the charges in a reasonable amount of time. They were able to come up with a press release one day following the publication of their unsafe practices. To me it seemed they were a bit defensive in their press release. Reminding me of how much fun Calypso is does not excuse the fact that they have received 20 charges against them, however if it were just one or two violations I might feel differently.

For a more in-depth look at crisis management, check out these websites:

1. http://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com/articles/10-steps-of-crisis-communications.html
2. http://www.instituteforpr.org/topics/crisis-management-and-communications/

Footnotes:

1. http://www.calypsopark.com/files/8613/7416/7579/E13-Calypso_ResponseTSSA-AN.pdf
2. http://www.calypsopark.com/files/5413/7416/6892/E13-Calypso_Statement-AN.pdf

– Nani Moleko

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