Joined up thinking

AUTHOR: Inavate

In a move to significantly improve cross-park communications, the Taussauds Group has invested in a networked audio system at the Thorpe Park theme park in Southeast England.

Thorpe Park, located in Surrey, in Southeast England has been entertaining young and old since its opening in 1978. The adventure park features 26 rides ranging from old favourites like Logger’s Leap to new ride Stealth, which accelerates from 0-80 mph in two seconds.

Remarkably, despite various upgrades to the park’s audio system over the years, it has never had a unified, park-wide public address system. Each ride had its own amplification, sound sources and speakers but they were all independent. This less than ideal arrangement has meant that any emergency situations requiring general public announcements have had to be handled by stewards with megaphones and radios.

As rides have become more advanced they have become more and more power-hungry, and recently the park has suffered a number of localised and larger power outages. These require evacuation of particular areas of the park and, in some cases, the entire park. In order to make this much easier to manage the owners finally took the decision that they needed to bring the park’s PA system together in a single system with a major infrastructural upgrade.

The chosen solution combines Bose’s Control Space DSP products and amplification with Netcira EtherSound audio networking. Where before there were local sound stores for each ride area, the system has been fully centralised to two control stations.

Music and messages are now stored digitally on Golding Audio sound stores and their scheduling and playback is controlled by BCX Venue software from Cranford Audio.

Bernie Weight, Audio Project Manager for Taussauds Studios, the Merlin Group’s media resource, explained how the new set up operates. “For any of the zones and rides, we now page directly from the control room, as well as into the control booths to talk to the operators. However the added bonus of the system is massively increased marketing potential it brings. We can now schedule promotional messages to go out throughout the day targeted to particular areas of the park.” The scheduling software looks a lot like digital signage control software, allowing the park’s marketing team to fully customise when and where particular messages are played.

The system was designed by Bose Professional Systems’ Rob Brooks, who described the new network topology: “We have two main control racks with the audio stores and PCs running the control and scheduling software. One is located in the control room at the park entrance, and the second in the security suite. Then, we have eleven DSP and amplification racks distributed throughout the park. These are linked by a fibre optic network, which we had to use due to the distances involved. Most of the cable runs between the nodes are over 300 metres long. The new system has over fifty pageable zones in total, with eleven zones of BGM capability. This compares with the 26 individual ride systems that came before. The horse-shoe arrangement of the network means that if it is cut at any one point the two control stations can function independently serving the whole park between them.”

The amp and DSP racks each hold a Netcira MS-88 master unit to hook them to the network, a Bose Control Space ESP-88 DSP unit and then a combination of Bose amplifiers. To protect them from power outages each rack is now equipped with an APC uninterruptable power supply ensuring that even when things go wrong, the message can still get out. Because the park is an outdoor venue, there is no legislative requirement for such measures unlike in an indoor situation. If you think about it for too long, that’s actually pretty unbelievable given that on the day InAVate visited, the park was expecting some 12,000 members of the public to pass through it.

The rides themselves retained their existing speaker systems, with much of the upgrade centred around the infrastructure. However the park did install additional speakers in certain key areas in the park allowing them to reach the public more effectively with the new messaging solution.

A final significant benefit of the new system is that visiting events can tap into the park-wide network. National radio station Virgin FM visited the park with an OB van, and were able to hook in via an XLR connection to bring their live broadcast show to park visitors and radio listeners alike.

The audio system was not the only thing to get a facelift. The video source selection within the park’s “Dome” venue was also centralised. An Extron SV AV switcher now allows corporate users of the park to select DVD or other sources via the same GUI as the audio system.

The GUI itself is a Stardraw Control programme. It provides a simple, intuitive interface for park staff to route audio to the various zones, view the status of the system and quickly identify faults.

Bernie Waite concluded, “What started out as a life safety exercise, has led us to many other benefits. The extra revenue we can generate from events and targeted marketing messages, whilst not originally planned for, will go a long way to offsetting the cost of the upgrade. Great news for the rest of the parks in the group who are looking at similar solutions.”