Friday, February 27, 2009

Security at Disneyland - A First-Hand Experience

Always present but rarely experienced first-hand are the security teams in the parks; however, 'Photos from the Parks' recently learned from personal experience they are omnipresent and besides assisting guests, moving queues during parades, and searching bags, they are also looking at, and for, other things.

Before we begin, I'd like to thank the two members of Disneyland's security team I met on the evening of February 26th. Both were professional in their conduct and though slightly confrontational at first, became cordial in the end. What follows is my first-hand experience with security that night.

After a series of business meetings in downtown Los Angeles, I arrived at Disneyland on February 26th at 5:30pm. I entered the park with no bag or backpack, just my log book and my camera, which was hung around my neck on a thin white and blue strap, wearing jeans, black loafers, a dress shirt with sweater and a golf jacket. I stand 6'2", weigh 170 lbs, and have medium length hair. It's said that I have an authoritative air about me; this is largely due to my personal demeanor. I've found a large part of success in life is looking and acting like you know what you're doing at all times and this is the same approach I use when in the parks, especially when 'working' on behalf of 'Photos from the Parks'.

My objective that night was to photograph Toontown which, for better or worse, remains a gaping hole in my photo repository. Unfortunately, due to traffic on I-5, I arrived an hour later than planned and when I reached Toontown the light was completely gone. It's interesting to note that while in Toontown I was questioned, out of the blue, by a park guest who wanted to know what was going on at Donald's Boat. Rather than responding, "Excuse me, ma'am, but I'm not a cast member", I informed her the attraction was under refurbishment and would reopened in due time and went on my way. It always amazes me that people will ask these questions of people not wearing white oval name badges, but it happens nonetheless and to me with some regularity.

Disappointed, I left Toontown and decided to rove. I found myself in the usual places: Frontierland; New Orleans Square; Critter Country. I fulfilled two Disneyland goals with a ride on Big Thunder Mountain (at the very back of the train) to see what's left of Rainbow Ridge and, while in Critter Country, a walk-on to Splash Mountain (and a seat in front). For what it's worth, I like each of these very much and prefer Disneyland's Big Thunder queue and ride. Perhaps it was due to riding at night but it feels quicker and sharper than its twin in Walt Disney World.

With these goals firmly achieved it was time to get back to work. Without a mono or tripod nighttime shots are always disappointing and there wasn't much on my 'must have' list. I soon found myself in Tomorrowland (I've never taken a shot of the Space Mountain sign I'm proud of) and I shot the bas-relief walls on Buzz Lightyear and Star Tours and the short wall next to Little Green Men Store Command. By this time the park had 'closed' and it was prime shooting time. I reached the Honey, I Shrunk the Audience sign in no time at all and had squared up to capture the Starcade sign but waited as several CMs made their way out of the exit into the Tomorrowland plaza area. One CM, easily identified as security due to his hat, paused and stopped as I took some photos. I moved to my left to get the ever elusive Space Mountain sign and after taking three terrible shots the CM approached me and asked if I was a cast member. I said, 'No', and moved again to try another angle. The gentleman then asked a question I found quite odd; he asked if I was a guest. I indicated 'Yes, I am', and kept shooting as I made small talk.

I'm not sure why I was approached; perhaps the CM was concerned by how I appeared. In all fairness, I probably did not fit the 'image' of a typical park guest; I had a small, Canon A540 held out in front of me, I was taking photos and I was jotting down notes in my log book. I probably didn't sound like a typical park guest; when approached I was quite friendly and probably sounded like a CM to him (comes with the territory) but had identified myself as not a member of the family. At the time, I thought nothing of it; this is how I've operated in the parks for years while 'on assignment'.

About twenty minutes later, after a thorough capture of the Main Street windows not in my collection, I found myself in front of the Main Street Cinema, irritated by the construction walls up on the east side of the street. I was in the midst of framing a shot of the relatively new Greg Emmer window when two CMs approached me from the direction of the hub. One was the gentleman who had questioned me just earlier and with him another CM, a level up in authority. It was immediately clear to me that I had been followed out of Tomorrowland and likely watched as I made my way down one side of Main Street and then down the other. The senior of the two introduced himself to me in a very direct manner, but still following the Disney way with a handshake, and wanted to know what I was doing.  Once again, this struck me as odd as I was taking photos; something just about everyone does. In retrospect, I can only imagine to the CMs what it looked like I was doing. I'm sure, to them, I looked based on my mannerisms much like an insurance adjuster taking photos, maybe a quality assurance person creating a report, perhaps someone looking to steal trade secrets by stealing intellectual property, or, perhaps a like a terrorist? More on that in just a bit.

As I said, he asked me what I was doing I explained I was taking photographs for my website. That's when a round of questions ensued: "No, it's not a commercial site." "No, I don't make any money from it." "No, I don't have a business card from 'Photos from the Parks'." "No, I've never taken photos of CMs; in fact, I strive not to show people at all on the site." "No, there's no way I can prove that's what I'm doing here." "Wait; let me show you 'Photos from the Parks' on my BlackBerry. My last article dealt with what I call the 'Tiki Repatriation Project'." "I do have my business card, however, would you like one?" "Here's the URL and my gmail account if you have any questions." "Yes, please take a look and let me know what you think." "Well, it's more or less a labor of love."

After this the senior of two thanked me for my time and assured me it was all part of his job and then made an interesting statement; something along the lines of how we all want everything I was taking photographs of to be safe or still around. What does that mean? Is Disney walking the parks with an eye out for potential terrorists? Based the questions asked of me and the last statement made, I was led to believe the CMs were alarmed by the combination of what I was photographing and my appearance/demeanor. What might have happened if I couldn't show them this site from my BlackBerry?

So, here's where the rubber meets the road. What, exactly, are security team CMs looking for while observing and assisting guests? They obviously receive training on how to observe people and how to look for patterns but do they have specific profiles in mind? What actions from guests serve as triggers for questioning? Are they really concerned with acts of terrorism in the parks? If so, how did I fit that profile? The last one is really ironic as there aren't too many other people like me who are concerned with the cultural and artistic legacy of Disneyland who aren't employees of the Disney Company.

As I said at the outset of this post the two CMs who questioned me were professional throughout and the encounter has caused me to ponder a few things I never thought of before. (I've even started to wonder if I could receive press credentials for the parks. I doubt it.) Perhaps the worst realization is that after 25 or so visits to the various Disney parks I finally found myself in a position where I didn't feel like a guest of the Walt Disney Company. It bothers me a little bit to know that while performing their duties, two CMs made me feel like I was in the real world and not in the parks; that's never happened to me before. That said, they were just doing their jobs. As such, what is the right balance? How is Disney to balance the needs of their guests and property alike? These are hard questions to answer.

Have you found yourself a similar situation or know of someone who has? Do we need to more thoroughly consider our actions as photobloggers in the parks? Is there a line that I crossed? The more I think about what transpired the more interested I am in trying to see the experience in the eyes of the two Disneyland CMs but am still left confused and curious about the whole thing in terms of its ramifications. Would I ever be banned from the parks? (Perish the thought.)

In honor of my out of place experience on the 26th, I'm sharing with you equally incongruous photos; photos that normally would never make the cut for Photos from Parks are featured today. I hope they capture my thoughts on my most recent visit to Disneyland. And to the two CMs who took down my information, I hope you like this site.

These photographs were taken by the author in February 2009.

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wdwcentral said...

Wow - I would get mad if this happened to me at Disney. I can't believe they were questioning a guest like that!

I don't know why they could have suspected you as a "terrorist" just because you're taking pictures...and I don't think what you were wearing sounds [too much] like a terrorist! ;)

FoxxFur said...

What you did that's going to tip Security off to your presence was twofold: one; you were in Tomorrowland probably very late after the park closed, something that guests just don't do; park closes, everyone beelines for the exit. If the time was even 20 minutes after park close, you were behaving suspiciously by not being in the Main Street area.

Secondly, you were taking notes. I think you can understand why somebody being in a closed area of the theme park, taking pictures and taking notes looks actively suspicious. I doubt your demeanor had anything to do with it; anybody who's worked at Disney for any length of time knows that the really dangerous situations can come from anybody. Although the Cast Member said it in a joking manner, they told you exactly what they thought was going on: they were worried you were taking notes for planting a bomb.

I dunno what to say. I've been in a similar situation before, and altho I've never been confronted by security, there is a point where you are taking pictures with "uncommon" or "suspicious" regularity. Simple fact is that when you work at the parks, you know that people are taking constant pictures but *nearly all of the same thing at the same place*. Your behavior in general is what singled you out for attention.

Since you're not actually being a security threat, I say carry on, but one should be aware that there are areas of Disney parks that one should not be in. This includes everything except Main Street following "park clear". Park clear is when the last guests step off the last ride and a small fleet of managers follow them to the hub. Once that call is made, maitenence will come out, music and lights will be shut off, etc. Chances are that you walked back into Tomorrowland after "park clear" had been announced, which is why you were suspicious to begin with.

How are you to know when they're clear and when they're not? You can't. The system is intended to be invisible. Just like all of the Disney mechanical rooms, fire escapes, power mains, and other stuff, you're not meant to see it.

Darklighter said...

I can't state specifically where I work, but I can tell you it's in the "security" field... and although Disney strives to maintain that "magic" feeling, they do have to make the safety and security of guests they're top priority. You may or may not know this, but both Disneyland and Disneyworld have been named as potential targets by several terrorist organizations, so stepped-up security is only natural. Considering the actions you described, I'm surprised you weren't treated with *more* scrutiny, as unobstructed pictures and note-taking are the first two tools used by potential attackers. This isn't meant to scare anyone, or put a damper on Disney (indeed my favorite place[s] on Earth), but to shed some realism-light on the subject. Try those same activities at an airport or federal building... even a national monument, and your more likely to be talking to police rather than staff members. Disney wants you to have fun and enjoy your experiences as much as possible, but not at the expense of overall safety. Perhaps giving a business card to Customer Service prior to beginning, with a quick explanation would be prudent, as announcing yourself & intentions is not a typical move that would-be bad guys usually make. Good luck, and have fun!

Kurt N said...

I have gotten odd looks when taking random pictures but never been stopped. Always remember that you can take pictures of anything that is public as long as you are legally there. If I were ever stopped, I would just say that I am taking personal pictures, thank you, have a nice day. You are under no obligation to explain to them anything.

The Wades said...

The reasons:
You were not dressed like a tourist.

You were in Tomorrowland after it closed.

You were taking pictures and notes.

You were specifically avoiding getting people in the shots at all.

You had no bags or backpacks at all, not even for your camera from what I read.

On their own, none of these things would be enough to justify questioning you, but added together it was enough to ask the questions, once they were answered they figured that there was no threat, but guest's safety and security is the first priority.

Whenever I go to the parks after work I take a change of clothes with me and use the restrooms in the parking lot to change.

I suggest a t-shirt, shorts and sandals. A bag for your camera wouldn't hurt.

Alternatively you could apply for press credentials, if other fan sites can get them (lauhgingplace and the like), why can't you?

Darklighter said...

Kurt N. - The Disney Properties are *not* a public place. They can stop you from photographing in the parks if they like. The "public place" laws refer to goverment owned/controlled lands/facilities (municipal streets, federal buildings, etc.)... and even some of that has changed with the Patriot Act.

Grumpwurst (Ray) said...

I think the facts that you were alone, dressed a tad too professional in comparison to the average tourist and the main attention getter was the note taking.

I have logged about 30 days per year since 2006 and I don't think I've ever seen a non-CM take notes on anything. So, to me, that was the red flag.

I have a friend who used to be an asst manager at Wal-Mart and he told me that if they saw someone taking notes in their store, they'd immediately be thrown out. They are automatically assumed to be from a competitor.

But, in this day and age where the gov't has made us suspect everyone of wrongdoing, note taking, solo photography, and business casual attire spells trouble. I doubt they really thought you were a terrorist, but in these tough economic times you could've been s spy for Sea World or Magic Mountain.

I personally have only been stopped once by security at Pleasure Island and it wasn't even by WDW Security. It was by the local police who patrol the area. They tought I was press. They politely told me to stop taking pictures and I obliged.

But, I carry professional looking equipment (Nikon D300) and always have a tripod and I still don't get stopped other than that one time.

Maybe it's the fact that I dress like a bum when in the park (cargo shorts, grumpy t-shirt, and floppy hat purchased from DAK)

But, my biggeset question is what are you taking notes of???

I log about 800 pictures a day on average and I don't find the need to take notes. I also typically travel with Tim Devine from The Magic in Pixels and other photo enthusiests and don't see them take notes.

So, maybe I'm missing a valuable tool. What are you taking note of?

Anonymous said...

laughing place has press credentials? what a joke.

Richard Harrison said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments and thoughts regarding this topic.

FoxxFur - good things to consider but it was nowhere near park close. Please see my follow-up post.

Darklighter - true, but it's not the same. This place thrives on people paying to take pictures. I'm almost with you, but not all the way.

The Wades - the dress attire is a good point but, like I said to Darklight, I can't meet you all the way on that.

Ray - good to hear from you. Notes are the lifeblood of my blog; I'd be lost without them.

SPBrazil said...

You are a very honest and nice person. I would be very mad in your place. A CM shouldn't treat someone so suspiciously, unless he had a very good reason. As he questioned you, in my opinion I would have asked him what made him think that I looked like a terrorist or something. You should have complained at Customer Service. Thousands of people take photos in the parks every day. As I suppose, you didn't break any rules. What you do with the pics, it's not their business!!!!

SPBrazil said...

PS - Keep on doing your great job!!!
We love your photos and comments!

DaddyB said...

I was stopped and questioned once by Disney Security, and then they called the Anaheim Police over to question me when I was taking pictures in Downtown Disney. In my years of taking photo updates of the parks for my website , I have never once been questioned by Disney Security once I am inside the parks. I have stayed very, very late after closing, and have in fact walked with security towards main street as they do their final sweep of the park, ushering everyone to Main Street. They have always been very courteous and fair.
I do not dress in any special way. I usually have a tripod at night.
The only thing I can think of is either (as has been mentioned) The notebook... I think taking notes, or having hanging around your neck like a security or other lanyard might have gotten that person's attention. OR you may have just run across one of the officious, "I love the rules because I have so little power outside of work" kinds of guys.

That kind of encounter is one of those things that likely will never leave you, and will probably haunt a corner of your mind every time you are in the park with a camera at night from now on. I'm sorry you have to feel that way, as I do now too.

(And some of the larger well visited websites DO get press/media credentials for special events, but NOT for every time we visit the parks).

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a long-time Guest, I feel much safer at the parks knowing that you got stopped and questioned under the circumstances which you described.
I think you're way out of line for making a stink about this. "Safety" is the first of the 4 rules for Cast Members. Next time you're in the parks when it's closing time, head for the exits like the rest of the well-mannered guests.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe security was out of line. This all could have been avoided if you would have just explained that you love taking pictures and you understand [as stated in your story] the park is closing but you would just like to get a few more shots. I'm sure they would have been happy to ablige you. But to be so presumptuous to believe they have no right to question you is where you lose me.
This idea that I don't have to explain myself to anyone...what's with the defensive attitude. If you explained who you were even just casually, like I said, I'm sure the situation would have been different.

I know because I was a Disneyland security officer, and had a similar situation. One night at park closing, a gentleman such as yourself wanted to take pictures of the castle as we proceeded to clear. He explained why he wanted to hang around, and because he did, one of our managers stood by and allowed him to get the special shots he wanted.
Terrorist has nothing to do with it. The fact that you wanted to be in an area that was now off limits because the park was closing is why security stopped you.
But that's everywhere. If you're in the mall, and it's closing, and you want to sit in a bench in an area that's off limits due to closing time, do you expect not to be approached by security?
And safety does come before show, for anyone who remembers those key points.

Anonymous said...

As I have done security in theme parks before, Not Disneyland, I'll let you know why they decided to question you. Disneyland is a family park as that anyone over the age of 30 going in alone is going to ring a bell to security, Especially of they just shelled out what is probably about $100 bucks to be there after 5p.m. It will tell us that possibly you have family in the park you plan on meeting OR, and this happens more often then you may think, you are there for Financial gain (e. Solicitation), Tactical planning, or are a child predictor. Next the rule of photo's in a theme park is guest are allowed to take photo's of their family and family members only. This is to prevent the threat of Child predators or better know as sharks in the security industry. Predators are mostly single males, traveling alone, with a camera, that don't stay for long, and tend to hold a season pass. Loafers to a theme park usually don't fit as they are stylish but will leave you with callouses and blisters by the end of the day, so this tells us you didn't plan of staying very long. Next taking pictures of the buildings and no matter how innocent looks to us like tactical planning. Building layouts, HTA (High Traffic Areas), CM, and structural strength stress points just yell out sabotage to us even if you only saw it as art. Company training will only teach new guards the basics of what we can and can't do in the field. Everything else is picked up from our FTO's and experiences in the field. Before everyone just throws fits at security try to see things from our prospective. I am in no way affiliated with Disneyland nor do i speak on their behalf. This is just why i would have done the same thing in a their situation.

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Anonymous said...

For someone who is a 'professional blogger' and photographer these photos are pretty terrible. Perhaps you should invest in a better hobby

Anonymous said...

I've been a pass holder for many, many years. My family and I go to Disneyland probably once a week. The security is erratic at best. I think they spotted you because of your height. They have a thing for tall men. My husband is 6'4", and he is the only one that is thoroughly searched when we enter the park. I'm pretty much ignored unless the security person is female and over 50. Then they go over-board with the searching. I'm also thinking the security guys were bored and wanted to just harass you. Keep taking pictures - don't let them get to you.

Kyle said...

I can see why because of you doing it from different angles and writing things down on a log book no matter what time period you did those activities it would arouse suspicions.

Be thankful it's not during the cold war or you might've been taken away and questioned if you worked for Russia or some kind of international spy doing espionage and you'd never hear the end of it.

At least they let you go and didn't even give you a stern warning either and that's all that counts. I am surprised they didn't say "Don't be doing that again"