Orlando Attractions Update – In what was frankly a very predictable move in the current climate Orlando’s biggest theme parks on Thursday added metal detectors as a security precaution.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that Walt Disney World placed walk-through metal detectors in front of all four of its theme parks. Universal Orlando began using wand-style metal detectors in an area leading into its parks and nightlife district. SeaWorld Orlando also began using wand-style detectors.
The safety measures extend outside Orlando. Disneyland and Universal Studios in Hollywood, Calif., are also using the devices.
Security in general has been a major concern following recent deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. On Wednesday, the federal Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin saying it was “especially concerned that terrorist-inspired individuals and homegrown violent extremists might be encouraged or inspired to target public events or places.” It warned people to expect more police and more stringent security at large gathering places.
The apparently coordinated decision at theme parks seems to be “really kind of a destination statement of, ‘Look, we’re ensuring all our guests traveling to Orlando experiencing the parks, we’re going to try to provide the safest environment possible,'” said Scott Smith, an assistant hospitality professor at the University of South Carolina.
Disney World — where a man was arrested last week after trying to enter the Magic Kingdom with a handgun — also said Thursday that it would discontinue the sale of toy guns. New rules also include a ban on costumes for visitors 14 and older, even at Halloween parties. It is unclear whether people can still wear them at Disney races.
More deputies and security guards have been visible at the resort lately. Specially trained dogs have been patrolling key areas. On Wednesday night, police dogs checked the outside of monorail trains before the doors closed and left the Transportation and Ticket Center.
The movie theater at Disney Springs where Thursday’s premiere of the new “Star Wars” movie was taking place also was using metal detection.
“We continually review our comprehensive approach to security and are implementing additional security measures, as appropriate,” Disney said in a statement.
The random scanning of visitors didn’t seem to affect late-morning lines at Disney’s Epcot, where they were of typical length for the holiday season.
Universal spokesman Tom Schroder said the decision to try metal detection was not driven by a specific threat. “We want our guests to feel safe when they come here,” he said in an email. “We’ve long used metal detection for special events, such as Halloween Horror Nights. This test is a natural progression for us as we study best practices for security in today’s world.”
Universal uses the wands at its bag-check area, which has been moved from a hub area closer to where people exit parking garages.
SeaWorld said in an email it would be “enhancing security measures for the busy holiday season.”
Asked about the additional security, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that Sheriff Jerry Demings “has regularly called for enhanced law-enforcement visibility along with additional measures to promote safety for our residents, visitors and tourists during the holiday season. In light of the recent attacks, our awareness and vigilance remain a priority.”
Many theme-park visitors welcomed the changes.
“I’ve been kind of concerned with the domestic terrorism and some of the attacks that have been happening on soft targets like movie theaters,” said Tim Harden, 24, an Orlando graphic designer. “Just going to the parks, I always thought about that in the back of my mind.
“I think the metal detectors are a reasonable precaution. You’re going to wait in lines all day long, so what’s one more line?”
Terrorism is not the only security concern for entertainment venues. There have also been many mass shootings that weren’t politically motivated, including one in 2012 at a Colorado movie theater.
The move caught the attention of gun-control advocates.
“Now, families can’t even go to ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’ to escape the realities of gun violence in this country,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, in a statement.
Metal detectors have become more common for general security reasons. Travelers have walked through them at airports for years. Major League Baseball has begun requiring them for its games, and they are also used for Orlando Magic games.
Six Flags theme parks put up metal detectors, most of them after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, at the main gates. In 2004, Disney World experimented with metal detectors at its entrance but did not make them permanent.
Earlier this year, Universal put up walk-through metal detectors in front of a few rides to make sure that people don’t bring on items such as keys and cellphones that could fall out and injure people.
Orlando Sentinel Staffers Dewayne Bevil and Charles Minshew contributed to this report