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Franceen Gonzales was on the path to a career in medicine when she discovered aquatics. While a premed student at Stanford University, she got a summer job at Wet N’ Wild Waterworld waterpark in El Paso, Texas, and has gone on to become one of the industry’s most respected resources when it comes to risk management.

Gonzales is currently vice president, risk management and aquatics at Great Wolf Resorts, based in Madison Wis. Prior to accepting her current role in 2006 she was park director at Hurricane Harbor, located at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J.

With Great Wolf Resorts, Gonzales has helped further the expansion of the brand, overseeing the opening of four new properties. While her goal at Great Wolf Resorts has been to develop the waterparks as family-friendly anchors at each property, a big portion of that work has involved establishing a centralized risk

management program. The goal is to ensure that employees have uniform safety protocols and a set of standards to protect the well-being of all guests. That goes hand in hand with ensuring that all corporate assets and shareholders are protected via a proper insurance program.

Gonzales’ focus on risk management stems partially from having to face a tragic incident early in her career. While employed at an Arizona waterpark, she had to manage a devastating water slide accident. Investigations found that the employees were well-trained, documentation was in place and the ride met all standards. Ultimately, no conclusive reason for the accident was determined, but Gonzales says the experience taught her that operators need to be prepared to deal with an incident “whether it’s under our control or not.”

She adds, “I’ve always wanted to make sure that safety is top of mind in the industry so others won’t have to experience what I have.”

That motivation has led to her involvement with the World Waterpark Association, for which she served as chairwoman from October 2006 to October 2008.

Gonzales also is active in creating new industry standards. As a member of ASTM, she’s helped draft standards for water slides and aquatic play structures. And as chairwoman of the Ventilation Technical Committee for the Model Aquatic Health Code project, she’s working to create optimum air quality standards for aquatics facilities.

“The industry is still relatively young and so we need these standards,” Gonzales explains. “Great stewardship of the industry is what will keep it strong and successful.”