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Keeping Disneyland Safe

By Larry Barrett  |  Posted 2005-05-04 Print this article Print

The cornerstone of Orange County's disaster preparedness is a new software system from EDS.

It took 200 "first responders" from the Anaheim police and fire departments, the California National Guard, the FBI and Disneyland's in-house security staff less than three hours to transform the "happiest place on Earth" into every parent's worst nightmare.

More than two dozen casualties lay motionless just a short distance from the Mad Hatter's Tea Cups and the Sleeping Beauty Castle. More than 50 people merely injured by stray bullets or shrapnel from some type of explosive device were running scared. Others just slumped to the ground, unable to move or breathe.

In the chaos, policemen, firefighters, paramedics and security personnel, who had no idea what they were up against, scrambled to evacuate guests and employees, care for the injured and track down and kill the perpetrators.

The drill culminated with policemen killing two of the three suspected terrorists. The third suspect, finally cornered by SWAT team members near an auditorium where Mickey Mouse and his sidekick Goofy usually entertain hundreds of kids, eventually took his own life to conclude the mock attack.

Just past midnight and working on adrenaline, Sgt. Rick Martinez of the Anaheim Police Department gathered with his colleagues in a warehouse on the resort to assess responders' performance. His goal: reduce casualties if an event such as this were actually to take place one day inside a venue that is not only Orange County's most important economic resource, but also its de facto identity to the rest of the world.

"Mostly we realized that we have to improve the way we communicate among ourselves as the circumstances change,'' Martinez says. "There's no room for second-guessing yourself in the middle of something like this."

The drill, conducted on a brisk February evening, represents a small piece of a countywide effort by law enforcers and Orange County businesses to not only prepare for disasters—man-made or otherwise—but find new ways to use information systems to save lives and the economy of a county that generates more than $142 billion in entertainment, merchandise retailing, professional services and manufactured goods a year.

The impact actually would be much wider. "If some type of terrorist attack were to take place at Disneyland, the impact on the theme park industry and tourism in the U.S. in general would be enormous," says John LaRosa, research director at Tampa, Fla.-based Marketdata Enterprises. "You'd see an immediate plunge in attendance at all theme parks and, just like the airlines after Sept. 11, it probably would be at least two years before people would return to these venues. It would be devastating."

Though the economy of Orange County is diverse with extensive real estate, banking, manufacturing and technology interests, tourism is the lifeblood of the region and Disneyland is its heart. Visitors to Disneyland dump more than $3.6 billion into the county's economy each year. It provides more than 65,000 jobs to local residents, and guests contribute more than $325 million a year in taxes to the county coffers.

Senior Writer
Larry, of San Carlos, Calif., was a senior writer and editor at CNet, writing analysis, breaking news and opinion stories. He was technology reporter at the San Jose Business Journal from 1996-1997. He graduated with a B.A. from San Jose State University where he was also executive editor of the daily student newspaper.
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