TEA News

29 June 2022

The Importance of Electrical Engineering in Theme Park Design

The Importance of Electrical Engineering in Theme Park Design

Featured Guests: Senior Electrical Engineer Kristen Williams of EXP, and Senior Electrical
Engineer Matt Schoenherr of EXP
Moderated by TEA Western Board of Directors and Chair of the Education Committee Walter
Brennan
Article written by Michael Genova

TEA Western Board of Directors Member and Chair of the Education Committee, Walter
Brennan implemented a series of webinars with the intent of shedding light on the disciplines in
theme park design that might not be as well known or understood. For the Wednesday webinar
on June 22, Brennan served as the moderator to present the fourth installment of the series,
“Theme Park Design: Electrical Engineering,” focusing on the work of this crucial discipline. A
professional engineer himself at the firm EXP, Brennan was delighted to introduce his panel
members, EXP Senior Electrical Engineers Kristen Wiliams and Matt Schoenherr.
Williams began the presentation with a short introduction of herself and her background. A
professional engineer specializing in electrical engineering, Williams was born in Riverside
California. She earned both her bachelors and masters of science in architectural engineering
from Kansas State University in 2010. She started working for EXP in 2012.
Schoenherr followed with his brief history. Originating from Summerland ,British Columbia,
Schoenherr resettled to northern Wisconsin, where he earned his bachelor of science in
architectural engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering in 2004. He started his
career in Orlando, Florida, where he worked for a number of firms before EXP.
Beginning with the basics, Schoenherr began by showing a simplified illustration of where
electricity comes from and how it is transferred. Schoenherr stated that most people
understand that electricity is generated at a power plant and then distributed through
transformers to electric lines before ending up at their homes, or schools, or office buildings,
and of course theme parks. He explained that electricity can be imagined as water moving
through pipes. There are many similarities between the two systems and thinking about
electrical wires as the pipes that transfer and direct electricity is a useful way to envision
electrical connections. To explain the different types of power, Schoenherr used the analogy of
a well poured beer. The real power, explained Schoenherr, is the liquid in the glass; the foam at
the top represents reactive power; and the entire volume in the container is the apparent
power. Reactive power, explained Schoenherr, is one of the issues that electrical engineers
must contend with in theme park design. Launch coasters and other attractions can cause an
imbalance and create larger amounts of reactive power. Lastly, Schoenherr discussed why
electrical engineers are needed. Electrical engineers, he stated, make sure that the lights are

on, that the HVAC of an attraction is working, that all the technology is properly powered, and
that the system is designed to account for the many needs of a theme park.
Williams added that electrical engineers are needed because electrical systems can be
dangerous. She presented slides of the many warning signs and notices that may be posted on
or near electrical systems. “This is really key to what we do,” stated Williams. “We have
guidelines to keep everybody safe, and we want to make sure that all the guests and employees
are safe when they come to work or visit a theme park.”
The primary guide for an electrical engineer's work is the National Electric Code; however, there
are a number of other building codes that also must be followed. Williams discussed the Nation
Fire Alarm and Signaling Code and how it is used to design specific systems to help people exit
a building safely in the event of a fire alarm. She introduced many other guides that electrical
engineers must consider, including specific fire safety codes, electrical service codes, and local
building codes. Because of everything that electrical engineers account for, Williams stated,
“We really try to be your electrical accountants in everything that we do.” Schoenherr concurred
and presented a slide with the sixty plus systems that electrical engineers are responsible for
designing.
Focussing on the specialized power requirement of theme parks. Williams discussed the many
facilities and attractions on the property. The electrical design typically begins with establishing
each building's power needs and the total required power for the site. Next consideration is
where the power will be placed on the site. She displayed a slide with a thick red line
surrounding the outer perimeter of the property representing the power loop. The power loop is
made up of several large conduits and cables. Switchgear placed along the conduit is used to
divert power needs along the loop. The large electrical switches can be contained in a building
room or housed in a large enclosed outside area. Transformers follow to deliver usable power
to the park structures. Transformers and switchgear require proper clearance surrounding the
equipment for which electrical engineers must account. Williams displayed a slide depicting the
clearance required for several electrical components in a room; some electrical cabinets
required as much as ten feet of front clearance.
Because of the many different systems that electrical engineers must account for, the electrical
plan sheets created for a project typically outnumber the plan sheets of other disciplines, stated
Williams. She continued that not all of the information is generated by electrical engineers, but
also includes the work of the many special groups that interact with the electrical engineers.
The unique challenges faced by electrical engineers are numerous with regard to theme park
design. The non-standard building shapes, heavy electrical loads, and sometimes hundreds of
systems require careful consideration and planning. Schoenherr elaborated on the many
different types of tools that electrical engineers use to complete theme park engineering
projects. Specialized 3D modeling software is used to create the complex building plans.
Schoenherr stated that the virtual models have become so detailed that electrical engineers
can see just about everything in the building in its virtual form. Despite the advancements in 3D

modeling software, much of the initial work is still done on traditional spreadsheets. Building
requirements and load requirements are calculated and ordered on the sheet. Other specialized
programs are used to determine the safe operating procedures in the building, lighting
conditions, and more.
At the conclusion of the presentation, Brennan rejoined the duo for an electrifying round of
questions from the audience, but the entire session was extremely interesting with the
participants learning much about how electrical engineering affects major aspects of themed
entertainment projects!

Watch this interesting and enlightening session on our youtube channel here: https://youtu.be/5kiRBdOXaB8
See all the meeting screenshots here:


Previous installments of the Theme Park Design Series are available to view on the Themed
Entertainment Association’s YouTube channel, and article re-caps may be found on the
website.
By Michael Genova, Themed Entertainment Association Western North America board
member, and member of the Education and Communications Committees.
=========================
Special thanks to TEA Western Division Communications Committee Members and others for
their help on the marketing efforts for this event: Stefan Lawrence, EventBrite graphic, Walter
Brennan, EventBrite content, Sabrina Hibben, social media content, Theron Langhorne, all social
media graphics; Avery Matteo, Screenshot photos; Michael Genova, article; Jacob Land, video
editor; and Alyssa Lloyd, for keeping the informed on what’s coming next.

Posted by Morgan Lucchese

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