Last Saturday night, Jenna, Lindsey, and I were in a texting and Facebook and Twitter-trolling frenzy, as a fire was reported at the 7 Dwarves Mine Train ride in the Magic Kingdom. I think we collectively held our breath while waiting for reports to come in. Thankfully, no one was injured, the fire was easily put out, damage was only cosmetic, and the ride was re-opened a few hours later.
I read message board reports from some guests who were in MK at the time. Some were aware of the incident, and others had been in Tomorrowland or Frontierland at the time and had no idea anything had happened. From what I can tell, Disney Cast Members handled the situation well, and helped everyone stay safe.
But it still makes you wonder: how safe is Disney World?
Let’s take a look at some numbers. Travel and Leisure reports that Disney World’s Magic Kingdom (just MK) receives over 18.5 million visitors a year. Stop for a second and wrap your brain around that number: 18.5 million. Not accounting for busy vs. not-so-busy seasons, that’s an average of 50,684-ish people every single day of the year. As of 2013, it took 62,000 employees to run Disney World, making it the largest single-site employer in the country. I’m sure that by now, they’ve added to that number. That’s a lot of people crossing the Walt Disney World threshold every single day.
Disney knows people want to feel safe while they’re there, and it’s also in their best interest to help keep visitors and employees safe. They’ve put a lot of work into making sure their guests and employees vacation and work in safe environments. Their Safety and Security page provides a glimpse into some of their safety programs and policies. For instance, rides and attractions are inspected and repaired every single night by an entire “Mickey After Dark” crew, and all attractions undergo regular maintenance, repair, and inspections by qualified engineers.
Think the public safety procedures are limited to bag searches upon park entry and emergency response means getting a band-aid at the first aid station? No way. In order to keep the properties safe, Disney’s own security force patrols the entire Disney World properties 24 hours a day, and local law enforcement maintains a presence as well. Disney received an “Excellence in Disaster Preparedness” award from the Red Cross in 2005 based on their emergency preparedness level. They also maintain their own emergency response centers, complete with on-site police and fire substations, and staff paramedics throughout the property. And to take things a step further, they conduct quarterly exercises with SWAT teams.
Even with all the precautions and preparation, things can still go wrong. Wikipedia has an Incidents at Disney World page. (They have a page for everything, don’t they?) Since 2001, Disney has been required to report incidents to state authorities. That doesn’t mean scraped knees or heel blisters (can you imagine?). It is incidents that involve a death, injury, or circumstances that required emergency response. This list was compiled using those reports and news media reports, and includes things that happened back in the 1970’s. I won’t go into the details, but if you read the entire list, I think you notice a few things. First, there are for real reasons you should pay attention to the warning signs posted at each attraction. Second, common sense goes a long way in keeping a lot of people safe, and lack thereof can lead to injury. And third, even with safety procedures in place, accidents can and still do happen.
So, let’s go back to the numbers. 18.5 million people visit the park per year. On the Wikipedia page, I counted 17 reported incidents from 2010-2014 in the entire Disney property. One was the recent fire at Seven Dwarves Mine Train (there were no injuries or significant damage), and two were guest altercations. Just for the sake of argument, let’s pretend our Wiki friends left out a few and round that up to 20 (and it makes the math easier). That averages out to four significant incidents per 18.5 million guests. I’ll let someone better than I am at math figure out that percentage. It’s amazingly small. However, I fully realize that if it happens to you, the percentages don’t matter. Still, the odds are incredibly in your favor of having a fabulous time without incident.
The odds are already pretty good, but how can you make them even better?
1. Be smart. Don’t think that something can’t happen just because you’re on vacation. Use common sense, follow the rules, and listen to Cast Members. Don’t think the “Disney bubble” will protect you from harm. Do things like lock your doors, use the in-room safe, and be discreet if you prefer to carry cash instead of use a credit card.
2. Be watchful. You are, after all, at a place with 50,000 other people on any given day, so keep your eyes open. Pay attention to your surroundings, and if you see something of concern, find a Cast Member and tell them. And in case of emergencies, call 911 – even at Disney World.
3. Be prepared. Talk to your kids about how to navigate with you in crowds, what to do if they get separated from you, or see something they think is wrong or upsetting. Do things like take a minute to look at the emergency exit instructions on the back of your hotel room door and program the resort’s direct number into your phone.
Disney has already done a lot of work to help us be safe on vacation. I think that with a few steps on our part, we can all have fun at Disney World!
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