Safety is the top priority at Lee Richardson Zoo. For that reason, staff participate in at least four live-action drills each year. The topics for the drills include: fire, human injury, animal escape, and natural disaster.
Staff have also gone through active shooter training offered by the Garden City Police Department and participated in drills for foreign animal disease outbreaks with the Kansas Department of Agriculture/USDA. Staff also participate in tabletop drills (discussions) for such situations throughout the year. The purpose of all the drilling and training is so that if the real thing happens, we’ll be ready.
If you visited the zoo on September 18th, you may have been approached by a staff member and brought into the severe weather drill the zoo was having that day. Whether or not this happened would depend on what stage we were at during your visit. During drills, guests are informed, “We’re having a severe weather (or one of the other three types) drill today, if this was real, we’d give you instructions to follow/guide you to a place of safety.”
During a real emergency, zoo staff would do exactly that, give you instructions that contribute to your safety (i.e “we’re evacuating this building so please visit another section of the zoo”), or guide you to a place of safety (i.e. an inner room with no windows). Please follow staff instructions if you happen to be at the zoo during such an occasion. The top priority during any emergency at the zoo is guest safety.
Considering the region of the country we’re in, our natural disaster drills tend to focus on tornadoes, hail, severe cold with lots of snow or ice, and the impact such events can have on the zoo, such as power outages and facility damage.
Fire drills are self-explanatory on the surface, but there are several ways fires can start (electrical, careless disposal of a cigarette, lightning strike, etc..) and quite a variety of places at the zoo where a fire could occur. During our drills, we try to cover as many possibilities as we can so we’re ready for anything. Each year zoo staff go through fire extinguisher training offered by the Garden City Fire Department.
Safety for the community, staff and zoo residents is at the front of our thoughts continually during the day. Zoo staff start and end each day with checks of zoo facilities to make sure everything and everyone is where they should be and in good condition. Even with all the checks, the possibility of an animal escape is something we must prepare for.
Drills for an escape can involve one animal or multiple, non-dangerous or potentially dangerous. They could range from a single addax grazing on the West Green to the entire flamingo flock walking down the road by the zoo offices. An escape is any time an animal is not secure in the area where it should be. For example, the jaguar would be considered “not secure” if she’s in the keeper service aisle inside the Cat Canyon main building with all the exterior doors shut; she doesn’t have to be all the way out of the building or in a public area of the zoo to initiate an emergency response.
Human injuries can come in all shapes and sizes. Is a guest suffering from heatstroke? Did a contractor fall off a ladder? Was a staff member overcome by ozone? Is someone having a heart attack? While zoo staff are not professional medical care providers, staff do train regularly on CPR, basic first aid, and identifying and responding to signs of heat or cold related issues as well as how to get more qualified help involved if needed.
If during any of your visits to the zoo, you happen to see a staff member running around with a sign that says, “I’m an escaped otter”, you can rest assured you’ll see more staff coming with nets and any other needed equipment close behind. You can also be sure Lee Richardson Zoo staff train for all contingencies to make sure your visit is safe and enjoyable.