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What's the point of a bag check, anyway?

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Published: March 5, 2012 at 10:53 AM

So what's the point of those theme park security bag checks, anyway?

That's the question I'm sure many Disneyland guests were asking themselves after this weekend's incident at the park. Sometime after 9am on Saturday, someone noticed a suspicious package in the esplanade between the Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks. Disney officials closed and cleared the esplanade, which effectively closed the gates to the two theme parks. If you were in the parks, you couldn't leave, and if you were outside, you were held behind the security checkpoints on either side of the esplanade.

Waiting in line
The line for the bag check at Disneyland on "One More Disney Day," Feb. 29, 2012. The line-up was even longer three days later, on Saturday, March 3.

While I'm sure the people who arrived at Disneyland early enjoyed getting the park to themselves for an extra hour or two, the tens of thousands of people who were queued up and denied entry to the parks that morning weren't happy about the extra wait. Call it "One Less Disney Day" for them.

The Anaheim bomb squad checked the package, which turned out to be a scroll of paper, and Disney reopened the parks by 11am. But here's the thing - the package was found inside the resort's security checkpoints. If a package has passed through the checkpoint, shouldn't the presumption be that it's okay? (*BTW, we were all over this Saturday morning on Twitter. If you've not subscribed to our Twitter feed, that's the best source for TPI coverage of breaking theme park news.)

Of course, Disney's "security" check isn't really all that secure. It's a soft check, designed to deter clumsy and obvious threats, as well as to keep out the paparazzi - one of the main things Disney is screening for these days is large tripods and long lenses on cameras. But even that soft check imposes inconvenience on guests, who are entitled to wonder what they are getting in return for that extra wait and having to put down and open all their bags.

Presumably, the trade-off is getting to enter the park free from worries about things such as suspicious packages. But Disney guests didn't get what they waited for on Saturday morning.

I don't know that most Disney guests would prefer that Disneyland increase the security at its checkpoints, adding metal detectors and asking people to either open or remove their coats, like at an airport security check. I do know that Disney deserves credit for trying to make up for the lost time in the parks by keeping the parks open for an additional hour that day, and for adding extra performances of World of Color and Fantasmic!

The blockhead who left the package told authorities he was trying to leave a message of goodwill. More than watching an extra late-night showing of World of Color, I think that many who were stuck outside the Disneyland gates on Saturday morning would have liked to give that guy a message of their own. Now that's something people would have waited in line for!

Readers' Opinions

From Tyler Stover on March 5, 2012 at 11:15 AM
I had heard that it had to do with geo-caching and involved a PVC pipe.

What I found really ironic was that after shutting down the entrance for hours, to move the crowds through the security checkpoints the bag checks seemed even more cursory than usual. They were barely taking a glance at bags as they waved people through as fast as possible (no doubt to ease the line that stretched all the way back to the far end of World of Disney.

Disney security also seems inconsistent. There have been times when I've had no bags that I've been waved right through without stopping. However at a later time I tried walking through with no bags and the screener held me there. I had no bags to check so we just stood there for about 30 seconds with the guy looking at his watch, then he finally allowed me through. Really weird...

There was another time when a black duffel bag was found abandoned under the Critter Country railroad bridge. Security kept about a 20 foot perimeter around the package. So a package that could very well be a bomb placed under a BRIDGE gets a few feet of breathing room but otherwise business as usual, but a pipe in a tree shuts down two parks for hours? I just don't get it.

The nice thing was, we were planning to have breakfast at Tangaroa Terrace anyway. We enjoyed a peaceful meal on the patio in beautiful weather overlooking the pool, and entered the park later after the chaos eased. That worked out very nicely.

From Amanda Jenkins on March 5, 2012 at 11:15 AM
This is a topic of conversation that my husband and I have discussed during each vacation to Disney World. My husband is a police officer, and I have heard how easy it would be to slip something past Disney's security. It drives him crazy how they check the bags without really moving anything. He has explained to me all the different places that someone could hide something and bring it into the park. The whole point of the bag check is to deter the not so "intelligent" criminals. We have even talked to the police officers that spend their overtime waiting outside the gates in case there are any problems. With all this visible security, it does most likely deter criminal behaviour. But if they are truly wanting to protect against something more dangerous like explosives or weapons, then they will need to change their process.

Would it bother me if there was more extensive security checks, such as metal detectors? No, but that is only because I have nothing to hide or worry about. Granted it would take longer getting into the park, but it would just be something you would have to plan into your vacation. Of course, as history has proven: if you really want to get a weapon in a place there is always a way to do so without detection.

From Tyler Stover on March 5, 2012 at 11:23 AM
I remember one time my dad forgot he had a knife clipped to his pocket as he was trying to enter the park. Security caught it and told him to get rid of it. He walked around the corner, slipped it into his pocket, returned, and was allowed to enter. Yet despite the obvious gaps in the visible security, actual incidents are so rare (especially given the number of people visiting the parks) that they have to be doing something very right behind the scenes. I just wish the visible stuff, no doubt designed to also to just give guests an extra tangible assurance of security, would be a bit more consistent.
From Anon Mouse on March 5, 2012 at 11:51 AM
I wonder why every abandoned package must be treated the same. Disneyland is not an airport. Thank goodness there are no TSA agents at Disneyland. They shouldn't have to get the police involved every time there is an unattended bag. There should be a new protocol for Disneyland to gather the bag and put it in a secured location.
From Eric G on March 5, 2012 at 4:24 PM
They should do away with bag checks at Disneyland. It's a total waste of time. Second, who said this scroll of paper was placed in that area during park hours? They don't have bag checks at off hours.

This event highlights the ridiculous handling of many so called security events. Talk about being overly cautious. Too much so.

Someone who may target the park, hopefully not, will easily circumvent a bag check. It's moronic to impose bag checks and you have to be fool to believe that you're safe because of them.

The real securing of the parks is done behind the scenes in conjunction with local and federal law enforcement.

For the record Amanda, metal detectors are a complete waste of time. Unless they're going to install x-ray machines for all bags, then metal detectors are POINTLESS.

From O T on March 5, 2012 at 5:25 PM
It takes one terrorist attack and the whole country is scared as a little kid for a bully at the school yard. In Europe we had to cope with terrorists for years (and still do) but we don´t let them interfere with our daily lifes. You can´t live in a 100% safe place, get over it.
In America the terrorist have won. I think you have a better chance to get shot on a high school by a kid who´s parent failed to raise a mentally healthy person then in a theme park.
I´m not saying you shouldn´t watch out for people who want to do harm but you need to do that in a more transparent way. For instance there are literally thousands of cameras at Disney World. They are on streets, parking lots and attractions. There are intelligent systems that can watch human behavior and point out suspicious behavior. It then alarms security and they can track the person.
All parks should do away with bag check and make the experience as fun as possible.

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