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A behindtheears look at Disneyland
|Confronting the Threat|
even global catastrophe can shake us from our spoiled sense of entitlement.
Too bad there wasn't video footage last Tuesday of some of the angry visitors
who, as a safety precaution, were evacuated from Disney's theme parks. As
news spread of the disasters in the Northeast, most park guests understood;
a vocal minority griped, deprived of one day of riding roller coasters and
buying t-shirts and taking pictures of a grown man in a mouse suit.
These undoubtedly are the same people who a week before cursed at and physically abused an information hostess at Disney's California Adventure because she couldn't help them find a prematurely released "mystery pin." They're the people who a week before that slapped a Space Mountain line attendant for letting through other guests who had FastPass tickets. And, they're the same people who will gripe the loudest this week, as security checks slow down lines to get into the parks.
As for me, my whole trip to Orlando this week has been canceled. Big deal. So many more have lost so much more than a trip to Disney World.
Disney's parks lost one day of operation. Last Tuesday, Disney World evacuated its four parks at about noon. One worker recounted, "We used Plan A with means an Accelerated move to the normal exit turnstiles. It's strange, but European guests were quite understanding of the reasons for our evacuation. Of course, they have dealt with terrorist attacks within their own countries from time to time. It was the Americans that complained the loudest, wanting compensation for their loss of touring time."
In Anaheim, a cast member said, "The resort closed after opening for Magic Morning. Disneyland and DCA were shut down and locked pretty tight. Cast members who remained in the park included security, custodial, facilities, characters, and management. Some of the words to describe the park from those who were there: eerie, surreal, quiet, sad, depressing, lonely."
The parks reopened the next morning, with changes extending beyond flags at half-mast. At the Magic Kingdom, TimeKeeper, which had reopened a few weeks earlier after a lengthy closure, did not reopen. The film features a brief flight over New York City, prominently featuring the World Trade Center towers. Some employees speculate the ride may never reopen.
Disney World's Jungle Cruise skippers have had to adjust their spiels. According to one captain, "In between Schweitzer Falls and the Hippo Pool, we have a plane crash show scene. It was placed there when we were no longer allowed to 'shoot' at the hippos after Animal Kingdom opened, so the joke became that hippos were responsible for bringing a plane down out of the sky. And besides, Disney had the prop laying around collecting dust, since it's the back half of the plane that is seen in the Great Movie Ride's Casablanca scene. At this time, skippers are just completely ignoring the plane crash show scene and not making any references to it at all."
Cast members have tried to keep smiling. As one Magic Kingdom employee explained: "Since Tuesday, we have continued to be open and present ourselves 'business as usual,' but the attendance figures have been very low. We also had to deal with a tropical storm on Friday, but the winds weren't as powerful as originally expected. A lot of rain fell, and over half of the park was closed. Jungle and Riverboat were down due to flooding concerns. Splash, Thunder, Aladdin, Dumbo, Treehouse, Speedway, and TTA (Tomorrowland Transportation Authority) were down, since they are attractions that were exposed to the elements. Astro (Orbiter) was down anyway due to their rehab."
"We're all stressed out right now with all of the events of the past week," a co-worker agreed. "Attendance is down to only 5,000 or 6,000 a day."
He said cast member also have begun worrying about job security. Most travel-related companies expect lower consumer spending, reduced tourism and unprecedented losses. Several have already announced thousands of layoffs. Rumors of major layoffs have hit Disney, which saw its stock price plummet nearly 20% Monday to $19.25 a share.
Immediate closure of Disney's theme parks made sense. Like New York's World Trade Center, Disney's parks are both highly populated and indelible symbols of America. They've also been targets in the past.
To be sure, most of the bomb threats received by Disneyland and Disney World over the years turn out to be hoaxes. Threats are, nonetheless, taken very seriously. Park security officers are specially trained in bomb detection and use bomb-sniffing dogs to scour the properties. On more than one occasion, Disneyland has evacuated attractions suspected of harboring explosives, including the Matterhorn, It's a Small World and Tom Sawyer Island.
The threats not from pranksters have been from extortionists who have demandedbut never collectedsums from thousands to millions of dollars. For instance, in February 1972, just four months after its opening, Disney World's Magic Kingdom received demands for $90,000. Hours later, security discovered an explosive device in a utility shed in Frontierland.
A terrorist threat would be a different matter. An extortionist wants money; the terrorist's goal is to inflict damage. Consequently, a terrorist may not issue a warning. A terrorist also is less likely to think twice about harming innocent peopleor even himself.
Usually, however, terrorist acts require more participants and longer planning, giving authorities a better chance of foiling their plans. That worked to the advantage of authorities in the spring of 1995.
Remember the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway system in 1995? At about 8 a.m. on March 20, 1995, a terrorist from the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult released a canister of the highly toxic nerve gas sarin in the Tokyo subways. Twelve people were killed and more than 5,500 injured.
The group's next intended target was Disneyland. Their plan was that four weeks later, on Easter Sunday, two men would release sarin into the park during the fireworks show, when the crowd would be at its largest and most congested.
Fortunately, authorities got wind of the plot and warned the park. A former Disneyland ride operator recalled, "As a cast member, I remember security checking our bags as we entered work on that particular dayinstead of the normal exit check. Rumor was that there was a bomb threat. In fact, our leads on Roger Rabbit were required to make periodic walk-thru 'bomb checks' throughout the day."
According to the Baltimore Sun, federal authorities apprehended the two Japanese cult members at the Los Angeles International Airport. Reportedly, the men were carrying instructions on how to make sarin and a videotape detailing the attack.
The next day, the Justice Department claimed the whole thing was a false alarm. The Pentagon and FBI refused to comment, and the Japanese National Police chose "neither to confirm nor deny."
Hopefully, the next time we're preparing for a trip to a Disney theme park, we'll remember to pack a little more patience. The longer wait to drive into the parking structure. The slower lines at the front gates. The officers rifling through our purses and fanny packs.
They may seem like hassles but, trust me, security is doing us all a great service.
David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.
After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999); all titles published by Bonaventure Press.
He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.
You can contact David here.
Click here to go to David's main page for a list of archived articles.
Visit MouseShoppe to purchase copies of David's books. (Clicking on the link opens a new window.)
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