Before someone gets strapped into the Storm Runner at Hershey Park or feels their stomach drop on Kennywood’s Phantom's Revenge this Memorial Day weekend, they’ll be able to go online to check when the rides were last inspected.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has launched a website that allows any amusement park goer to see whether a ride has recently been inspected.
The new website comes after a PublicSource investigation last year found that the Department of Agriculture’s amusement park regulatory office did not have all of the inspection reports for more than half of the state’s 117 permanent parks and water parks in 2012.
The state’s House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee held a hearing in October and asked Department of Agriculture officials to find better ways to keep track of inspection records.
“We are doing what we were tasked to do,” said Samantha Krepps, a spokeswoman for the department.
State law requires that rides be inspected every 30 days by state-certified inspectors at amusement and water parks and each time rides are set up at carnivals and fairs. Inspection reports then have to be sent to the department via mail, fax, email or online via a state website within 48 hours.
There are more than 9,000 amusement rides in Pennsylvania, more than in any other state in the country.
Reports are more likely to get lost or misplaced if submitted by fax, mail or email, which makes it difficult for agriculture department officials to track and log reports, Krepps said. The website will help officials keep better track of records, she said.
“We are more vigilant about getting the information in,” Krepps said. “It is still a challenge. But we are working to make it better and that's one step closer than where we were last year.”
Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny, Washington, the majority chairman of the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee said he likes what he sees the department doing.
“The Department of Agriculture is taking an extremely important step towards their goal of having the national best practice standard for a searchable database,” Maher said. “Of course, the underlying infrastructure of technology needs to be built first and the fruits of that labor are already before us.”
“It’s great that the work they are doing is presented in the public domain,” said Michael Rader, executive director of the state Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee. “So citizens can feel secure that their amusement rides are safe.”
Krepps said the website is a work in progress; it’s in a beta stage and is pretty “bare bones” at the moment. People can search by an amusement park’s location and see the last inspection report for each ride a park operates, the date of inspection, ride name and ride and owner ID numbers.
“This is just phase one,” Krepps said. “We're still working out some of the bugs, but we wanted to get something out as soon as possible so consumers could take a look at inspection reports.”
One issue is that if a ride operator submits an inspection report by mail, fax or email, it will have to be put into the website manually, which takes time, Krepps said.
She said the department hopes to get a lot of feedback from people who use the site and ride operators on how the department can improve it and make it better.
“We are working on a two year process,” Krepps said. “In the next year and a half we are going to try to make improvements.”
Krepps said she hopes the new website will be an incentive for ride operators to submit inspection reports online, which will help state officials keep track of records.
She said department officials have discussed creating a smartphone application in the future so riders can better access inspection reports.
Reach Natasha Khan at 412-315-0261 or firstname.lastname@example.org.