Disneyland Earthquakes: How Disney Protects Its Guests
By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard the news. Disneyland experienced earthquakes on consecutive days, forcing the evacuation of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in one instance. You’re surely wondering how the process works and have questions about what to do if you ever find yourself in this situation. Here’s a guide to Disneyland emergency procedures and how to prepare for disasters.
Discussing the Most Recent Emergency
Let me start by saying a couple of things. First of all, the earthquake that earned headlines on July 4th wasn’t a big deal to anyone visiting Disneyland. You may be skeptical of this, but I have video evidence of it.
Thanks to the age of livestreaming, we can pinpoint the moment that the earthquake hit. One moment, this couple is discussing Disney movies. Then, they’re laughing – no joke – at the ground shaking. They even joke about it with other customers at the restaurant. To most residents of Southern California, this incident was trivial.
To Disneyland officials, the situation is much graver. From the earliest days of park planning, Walt Disney and his team recognized that they were building a theme park near a fault line. They created a series of procedures for these emergencies.
The second thing that I’d like to say is that I recently asked a friend who had moved to Central Florida whether they’d done any hurricane preparations. I laughed when they indicated that they planned to check into a Disney hotel at the first sign of inclement weather.
The statement was funny to me since I’d planned to recommend just that. Another freelancer that I know also lives in Orlando and has experienced several recent hurricanes. She checked into a Disney hotel and waited out the storm there, too. In other words, Disney travel experts know that the safest place to be during an emergency is with Disney experts.
Why Disney Is So Safe
So far, I’ve said that people laughed during an earthquake at Disneyland. And I’ve argued that Disney resorts are the best place to be during an emergency. You may think I’m crazy right now. Bear with me as I explain the how and why of it.
Walt Disney World is its own government. That’s not even an exaggeration. The state of Florida ceded so much power to The Walt Disney Company that state representatives only recently realized they’d given Disney the rights to nuclear power. Your favorite company operates with as much autonomy as any corporation in the western hemisphere.
While Florida has more leeway than California in this regard, Disneyland is also integral to the city of Anaheim. Whenever a disaster strikes, park officials get looped into all pertinent discussions as a common courtesy. Otherwise, city officials would jeopardize the lives of 100,000 tourists, which is the quickest way to get voted out of office and brought up on corruption charges.
In other words, I’m not saying anything outlandish here. Disneyland and Walt Disney World are fully functional cities with their own emergency response units. Since Disney gets its pick of employees, they’re also among the most highly skilled workers. And that always helps in a pinch when quick wits and procedural knowledge can save the day.
As a refresher, I chronicled many of the events that happened on the Walt Disney World campus during Hurricane Irma. This article alone should reassure you about your safety while you stay at Disney.
Why Disneyland Had Evacuations
In April of 2018, USA Today published an article about seismic activity around the San Andreas Fault. They spoke with researchers who believed that California would experience an earthquake in the 6.8 range at some point. The earthquake on July 5, 2019, was reported as 7.1 on the Richter magnitude scale. So, I applaud both the journalist and the researchers for nailing this story 15 months out.
The point here is that Disneyland is in the fault zone, where seismic activity is expected and predictable. Disney’s procedures acknowledge this fact. Park employees have strict guidelines about what to do in the event of such circumstances. And they followed those procedures during both earthquakes and their aftershocks.
Why Disneyland Closed Rides
One of the first steps is to close numerous rides. Cast members must perform safety checks to verify that the attractions are still safe to use. Disney would rather send everyone home for the day and refund their money rather than endanger its loyal customers.
I’m pleased to say that this has been the company’s policy since day one. Walt Disney cared about families, which is the entire reason why he constructed the Happiest Place on Earth. Disney is a safety-first business in a rare and profound way.
Many of Disney’s safety checks are physical. Employees walk around the attraction area and scan all potential points of weakness. If anything looks even slightly blemished, the ride will remain closed until repairs are made.
In the case of the first earthquake, roughly 10 rides closed for a time to perform these detailed maintenance checks. Afterward, the rides opened like normal. In the case of the second earthquake, park officials determined that the unfolding events merited further study. So, they asked guests to leave Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge for safety reasons.
— Kyle Reilly (@kylereilly) July 6, 2019
This themed land needed that special attention since park officials had no previous earthquake information about it. Should the same situation arise in the future, they may not need to evacuate the entire land.
Disney’s Emergency Procedures
Disney trains its staff in ABC evacuation plans. The A stands for accelerated, and it means that cast members quickly divert park guests toward the front entrance of the park. They’re accelerating the exits of customers to protect them and keep them safe from harm.
The B plan is Backstage. I’m not sure it has ever come up during the history of Disneyland and Walt Disney World, which demonstrates how rare and unlikely it is. In this contingency, Disney’s staff cannot direct guests to the front entrance. It’s blocked off and/or inaccessible for some reason.
In this unique situation, cast members will shepherd guests out of other exits, the places that “break the immersion” of Disney parks. For example, you might walk the same path that Disney employees do when they walk to the parking lot or take a behind-the-scenes shortcut somewhere. At Magic Kingdom, you might even use the Utilidors in this situation. It just depends on what’s fastest and safest.
The C plan is the terrifying one that I don’t even like to think about. C stands for cover, which is to say that hiding is your best bet in this situation. I won’t even speculate about when this would come up since the idea is so abhorrent and unlikely.
How Disney Thinks of Everything
Believe it or not, Disney officials have identified which buildings are best for C plans. They’ve contemplated factors like falling debris and decided where you’d be safe as opposed to where you’d be at risk. The old Wonders of Life pavilion wasn’t designated as a C building.
I’ve always presumed that was because its roof could shed glass, causing a secondary problem in an emergency situation. That’s purely speculation on my part, but it demonstrates the odd premises park planners must debate when settling each phase of ABC emergency planning.
Curiously, it reinforces just how safe you are when you’re at Disney. They’ve thought of everything so that you don’t have to do any of your own. In the event of an emergency, you can trust cast members to know what’s best for you.
One Thing You Can and Should Do to Prepare for Earthquakes
Here’s an odd fact about the Richter scale. The 7.1 earthquake on the 5th was 10 times as strong as the 6.4 on July 4th. Yes, the ranking system is hugely misleading. I point this out as a preface to the fact that the 7.1 was Southern California’s largest earthquake in decades. Even after it, Disneyland was operating regularly the following morning.
You’re worrying over nothing if you’re thinking about earthquakes during your visit to Disneyland. I remind you again of the video above, where park guests are laughing at the gentle shaking.
Having said that, there is one step that I suggest you take. If you’re fretting the possibility of an earthquake, you can either buy or build an earthquake preparedness kit. A government website suggests potential items to include. Think about which ones you could comfortably carry around at Disneyland and pack them in your bag. If you’re unlucky enough to experience the kind of earthquake that hasn’t happened in California in a century, you’ll be prepared.’
But I’m saying this as a statistician. The odds of your experience an earthquake over 6.5 during a Disneyland visit are infinitesimal. We will seriously be talking about the unlikelihood of what happened on July 4th and July 5th for decades to come.