Every morning before the kernels get popped and the cotton candy is spun, a group of three to four men is out walking the tracks of the wooden roller coasters at Six Flags America in Largo.
From 6 to 10 a.m., the workers carefully make their way up and down the dips and curves to make sure there are no cracks or loose parts that could cause an accident.
"It takes three to four guys 3 1/2 to four hours just to open the ride," said Frank LeDue, the park's maintenance director. "The public doesn't have any idea how much we put into safety."
Ride operators also run empty cars around the steel coasters to make sure they work before the first guest takes a seat.
This has been standard practice at Six Flags, even before the amusement park industry suffered a public relations disaster this summer after four people were killed in several incidents in one week last month. Six people have died in accidents at U.S. amusement parks this year, making it one of the deadliest seasons in recent history.
None of the accidents has occurred at the Six Flags in Prince George's County. But the impact has been felt there nonetheless.
"We've never had issues like that, but we want to make sure we don't," said Debbie Daniel, a spokeswoman for the Largo park.
Six Flags closed two popular attractions after a woman and a boy died on similar rides at parks in Texas and California. Renegade Rapids closed after a 28-year-old woman drowned in March when her raft overturned on a white-water raft ride at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, Tex.
The Tower of Doom closed after a 12-year-old boy slipped out of his harness and fell to his death from the Drop Zone ride in August at Great America park in Santa Clara, Calif.
The most popular ride at Six Flags America is a steel roller coaster called Two-Face: The Flip Side. Two-Face pulls riders up a 137-foot lift and drops them back down at 55 mph before sending them into a double inverted sidewinder.
The ride has a safety system similar to the one on the Shockwave, a ride at Paramount's Kings Dominion in Virginia, where a man was killed in August after he wriggled partway out of his restraints and fell to his death.
Riders on Two-Face sit in orange plastic seats and are protected by a padded shoulder harness and a web belt that attaches to the harness to prevent them from slipping out the bottom of the seat.
A computer system inside the ride tells the operator if the harness is not secure. A power system inside the harness also switches off when the ride is in motion so that it cannot be lifted.
But there are still anxieties.
Shamika Defreitas, a 15-year-old D.C. resident, climbed into one of the orange seats one recent morning and immediately wanted out. She had stood in line, listening to the screams of the other riders who were thrust into a 72-foot-high vertical loop.
She ended up staying on, but as she rushed to join her waiting mother at the end, Shamika declared that she would never ride again.
"I was just too scared," she said. "I got to the top, and you're looking down, and then you're going down. . . . I wanted to get off." Shamika shuddered, and then she laughed. Maybe she would go again.
Her mother, Cathy Defreitas, also of the District, said the recent amusement park accidents have made her nervous. "It could happen," she said, eyeing her daughter and teenage nephew as she considered the possibility. "But I trust the park."
Defreitas said that if a ride looked unsafe, she would not allow her daughter to ride.
"If I was too scared, I wouldn't let her go," she said.
LeDue said a ride such as Two-Face has a "redundant" safety system that requires two checks to be working for the ride to move. In other words, the backup system is also backed up.
"Everything on any of your major rides today is redundant," he said.
LeDue said visitors to the park often get upset when a ride is closed down, even for safety reasons. He said some parents even argue with park officials when their children are turned away from rides because they are too small.
Colin Ploscaru, 24, of Frederick, Md., also a visitor to the park, said he always pays attention to the safety instructions and warnings on a ride.
Ploscaru, a self-described risk-taker who also sky-dives, said he wouldn't take a chance on an amusement park ride.
"When you sky-dive, you pick your parachute," he said. "You are in control. When you are on a roller coaster, you are left to the management of the park. Your life is secured by them. I wouldn't disrespect the safety restraints."
Jesse Vick, of Annapolis, buckled his 10-year-old daughter and her 8-year-old friend into Roar as Ploscaru and his friend were beginning the 10-story climb on the wooden roller coaster.
He tightened the lap belts and then pushed the orange leg harness down on the girls.
A ride operator for Roar double-checked to make sure the girls were secure. As they sped off to climb 10 stories high only to be dropped 50 degrees into a 113-degree right turn, Vick shouted for the girls to hold on.
Vick said later that he wouldn't bring his daughter to a park where he felt their safety would be compromised.
"There's always a risk in anything you do," he said. "I don't see any more risk here than riding in a car or flying a plane."
LeDue said the accident at Kings Dominion has been a shock for everyone in the industry.
"I know those guys down at Kings Dominion," LeDue said. "They run a real tight ship. This has shocked everybody."
CAPTION: Above, Alex Chevez, left, and Rob Lattin, maintenance technicians at Six Flags America in Largo, inspect the tracks of the roller coaster Roar. Below, Frank LeDue, head of maintenance, demonstrates the safety harness on Two-Face: The Flip Side, a steel roller coaster.