HARRISBURG -- Calling it an outdated system, a state official pledged Wednesday the Department of Agriculture will overhaul its database of amusement park and carnival ride inspections to make it more user-friendly to those seeking safety information, and to ensure the agency has all the data concerning a particular ride or site.
The hearing was prompted by a recent report from the nonprofit investigative news organization PublicSource, which found more than half the state's permanent parks and water parks did not turn in all of their 2012 reports.
The department had no reports at all for 12 of the state's 117 permanent parks and water parks, according to records that PublicSource analyzed.
The Department of Agriculture is charged with inspecting rides at amusement parks, fairs and carnivals, go-karts, trampoline attractions, haunted house attractions and more.
To date this year, the department has visited 720 sites and inspected 2,697 rides and attractions, said Michael Pechart, executive deputy secretary for the department, testifying Wednesday before the state House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.
He defended the safety program as one of the top such programs in the nation, and cited an accident rate of less than five per one million ride experiences.
He did acknowledge a need for improvement in how the department compiles information. The agency gets reports filed online, via mail, email and fax, he said, which complicates how it keeps records and its overall database system.
"The bureau manages hundreds of thousands of records in two databases and on paper, and we have to do a better job of effectively managing this vast amount of data," he told the committee.
"The information [is] not easily understandable and user-friendly. We must search at least three separate locations [to] ensure we have all the information concerning a particular ride, inspector, or incident."
The bureau's current database must be completely redesigned, Mr. Pechart told legislators. He estimated the cost of an overhaul, which has been planned for some time, at $30,000 to $50,000.
The goal is to have the database functional by May or June of next year, in time for fair season, said Mr. Pechart. Eventually, the state would like to have a smart phone app that would allow fair-goers to check ride inspections from their mobile phones, though he said that would take longer to develop.
Rep. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, the committee's chairman, said he intends to follow up on the department's progress in creating the database.
"They do not want to have another hearing six months from now with me asking the same questions," he said.
Mr. Maher said he was satisfied the department is ensuring rider safety through appropriate inspections, and the issue is with filing and retrieving the inspection documents.
Kate Giammarise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.