How Disney Prepares for a Hurricane

Walt Disney World: J. Dana reviews the theme park resort's procedures for riding out a major storm. And TPI readers respond with first-hand accounts of Hurricane Frances' trek across Florida.

From J. Dana
Posted September 1, 2004 at 10:04 AM
[Editor's update (9/5/04): Scroll down to read eyewitness updates from central Florida Theme Park Insider members on Hurricane Frances' progress through their neighborhoods.]

Not that this is all that groundbreaking, but with Frances heading straight for Central Florida, it's interesting to see how Walt Disney World is preparing for the possible/probable onslaught of another hurricane:

Phase 5
(Monitoring Storm Possible)
Review current plan, checklists and business recovery plans. Review personnel and resource availability for the ride-out crew. Verify contact numbers and emergency data. Prepare WDW Emergency Operations Center for activation.

Phase 4
(Storm likely within 24–36 hrs)
General readiness imposed. Brief personnel. Review checklists. Consider possible shut down of long lead operations and not starting extended operations. Limited activation and staffing of WDW Emergency Operations Center.

Phase 3
(Storm probable within 12–24 hrs)
Intensify clean up and tie down. Prepare for phase 2 activity. Selected ride-out crew personnel given the opportunity to secure their personal property. Turn in excess radios and vehicles. WDW Emergency Operations Center opens and is fully staffed. Note: Generally this is when the WDW Emergency Operations Center, command centers, and command posts will be fully activated. However, this is an Executive Policy Team decision.

Phase 2
(Storm impending)
Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney MGM Studios, Animal Kingdom and Downtown Disney close. Guest campground trailers removed and secured by the guests. Scheduled hotel and campground guests notified of conditions. Complete all clean up and tie down short of shutdown. Authorized ride-out families move to pre-designated shelters. Ride-out crew fully staffed at start of phase 1 or as directed by the WDW Emergency Operations Center. Personnel not in ride-out crew released as soon as possible.

Phase 1
(Storm imminent, take shelter)
Shutdown all activities and immediately take shelter. Fulfill ride-out requirement plans.

Post Storm Phase
Command Centers submit situation reports to WDW Emergency Operations Center. Establish business resumption / recovery schedule. Notify employees through media and cast Member emergency lines of call back as directed by WDW Emergency Operations Center.

From Robert Niles
Posted September 1, 2004 at 10:11 AM
Thanks for the report.

It's staggering to consider just how much stuff needs to be secured in a resort like Walt Disney World. All those benches, umbrellas, queue stanchions need to come in or be tied down. Watercraft need to be docked in shelter or stored. Decorative signage needs to come down. All the while the people doing that have to arrange to do the same sort of thing for their personal homes.

So here's a round of applause for the hourly cast members who get the job done.

From Robert Niles
Posted September 2, 2004 at 12:31 PM
All flights into or out of Orlando International after noon Friday, Sept. 3, have been cancelled.

Get ready. TPI members are invited to post their experiences here, and to e-mail photos to me via

From Jason Moore
Posted September 2, 2004 at 1:40 PM
I'm on the west coast of Florida, so thankfully we don't have the threat of the direct hit, but we will be feeling it's effects. Our schools have been closed for tomorrow so that they will be available as shelters to people fleeing the east coast. This this has a lot of people quite nervous because of it's immense size. if you look at the radar and the satelite images you can easily see that the storm is larger than the entire state! So everyone is going to feel something from this monster.

From Jason Lester
Posted September 2, 2004 at 6:09 PM
Very interesting report.

From Mike Duchock
Posted September 2, 2004 at 8:38 PM
Since Charley was the first major storm to hit the WDW property in it's 33 year history, the company has learned many lessons.

One interesting thing to note is many windows have a protective film designed to protect against hurricane force winds, however someone decided to tape the windows anyway. Taking the tape off also took off the film, leaving ugly Xs on the windows. One example of this are the doors of the Tomorrowland Arcade facing the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway.

Think of all those trash cans that have to come indoors too!

From Chuck Campbell
Posted September 3, 2004 at 5:37 AM
When Isabel blew through Williamsburg, emergency officials told folks not to bother taping their windows because it really didn't help much. Then you have to scrape off all that adhesive--or paint the tape strips and pretend that you're living in a Tudor-style home.

From Jason Moore
Posted September 3, 2004 at 6:24 AM
Tape is pretty much a waste of time when 120 mile an hour winds are picking up things and projecting them through the air like missiles.

From mark walker
Posted September 3, 2004 at 6:51 AM
How many more friggin hurricanes are there gonna be after this one???!!!

From Agent R
Posted September 3, 2004 at 8:35 AM
The tape is not to prevent the windows from breaking. It's to keep the broken glass in large chunks that will most likely stay in the sill or fall to the floor under the window rather than having thousands of tiny shards blowing through the room.

From Adrian Walker
Posted September 4, 2004 at 12:01 AM
It's hard to believe but I've heard that this Hurricane is heading for the SAME route that Charley took. That is really going to aggravate people. TWO hurricanes! What next? How are the parks supposed to cope? Chaos rules in Florida.

From Robert Niles
Posted September 4, 2004 at 9:27 AM
Actually Charley hit Florida from the Gulf Coast, while Frances will make landfall from the Atlantic side. But the two will bissect the state in a "X," with the crossing just south of Orlando, if the Frances' current path holds.

The storm has weakened considerably over the past two days, from maximum sustained winds of 145 mph to about 105. The storm is simply too large to sustain category 4 or above strength. But if it parks itself over the Gulf Stream, and an upper-atmophere wind shear dissipates, it could strengthen before hitting the coast.

From Joe Lane
Posted September 4, 2004 at 10:08 AM
Continus coverage is coming on TV, radio and online through Bay News 9, Tampa's 24-hour news channel. Their reporting is pretty reliable, and anyone interested in the current situation would find a good deal of information on their site.

I've kept to my apartment in Tampa for this weekend--gusts are coming and going outside and rainbands are passing through. I'll post updates as time and power warrents.

From Ben Mills
Posted September 4, 2004 at 10:29 AM
Is there likely gonna be any more after Frances? And how much longer will this one be around?

From Matthew Armstrong
Posted September 4, 2004 at 10:35 AM
I live just north of WDW and WNW of Universal and Sea World. About 20 min., depending on traffic, from each park. The biggest issue with Frances is less likely to be wind or wind related damage but unbelievable amounts of rain. Forecasts are coming in with anything from 6 to 20 inches of rain! That's a lot of water.

The theme park drainage systems should be able to handle it, but much of the city still has debris from Charley lying around which has the potential to clog storm drains. If this happens, major flooding could result.

As of 1:30p ET we've seen our first outerband squall. It wasn't terrifically strong, but we all know it's gonna get a lot worse. As long as I have power and internet access, I'll try and give updates through out the day.

From Deborah Davis
Posted September 4, 2004 at 2:50 PM
To answer Ben: No one knows how many more will form before the season is over (in Nov., I think). We do have another one, "Ivan" that should become a concern in another week or so. After that, who knows. Keep in mind, we went from "B" (Bonnie) to "I" (Ivan) in 2 weeks.

I live in Pinellas County, and the wind is just now starting to blow. Schools were cancelled yesterday and we're all going stir-crazy. I just wish it would hurry up and quit stalling.

From Matthew Armstrong
Posted September 4, 2004 at 4:02 PM
It's me again. Here in Orange County, we're going a bit stir crazy as well. The rains are finally here, but not much wind thus far. At this point, rain is still the greatest threat to everyone in this area.

At last report around 300,000 people/businesses are without power. That number is expected to rise dramatically if/when the storm begins to move inland. I believe Disney is on Progress Engergy and Universal is on Orlando Power. I'm not sure about Sea World, they may also be on Orlando Power as well or Possibly Florida Power.

The lights just flickered, so I'd better get off the computer now in case it goes out. If I can, I'll let you know what's happening around the theme park area later tonight. (current time is: 7:10p ET)

From Joe Lane
Posted September 4, 2004 at 7:03 PM
Frances is a tease.

The extremely slow speed of the 'cane has it sitting just off the east coast. Although it falls in category 2 (105 mph winds)--a vast improvement from the category 5 stance earlier this week--the sheer size of the storm means central Florida/Polk County will be feeling the winds by the time the monster makes landfall.

Wind and sprinkling rain has fallen here in Tampa, but nothing major thus far, although Frances may not even be anywhere near the bay area until Sunday night/Monday morning.

On a personal note, the latest track takes the storm right through my hometown, Mulberry. There may not be a home left to go to after this.

Why'd this thing have to ruin our Labor Dabor Weekend?

From Matthew Armstrong
Posted September 5, 2004 at 4:01 AM
Well, it's just daybreak. The winds have been literally whipping all night long and the rain has been mostly steady. However, there is good news, the rain has not been falling all at once which is giving the drainage systems the time to move it out to the retention ponds. Disney's prmiary water retention location is the seven seas lagoon. Universal's three major water ways are their holding areas, and Sea World's lagoon also serves as their primary water retention location.

The latest reports say that we still haven't seen the worst of it, but thus far, west Orange County is getting through this relatively painlessly. Power has fluctated all night long, right now (obviously) it's on. At first light, I can't see any downed trees, which is also good. Let's keep our fingers' crossed or keep praying (or both).

(current time: Sun, 7:05a ET)

From Joe Lane
Posted September 5, 2004 at 8:49 PM
According to Bay News 9:

Walt Disney World will open the following resorts on Monday, September 6th:
- Magic Kingdom 10am-8:30pm
- Epcot 10am-9pm
- Typhoon Lagoon 10a-6pm
- Downtown Disney 10am-11pm
- Wide World of Sports Complex open for events
- Animal Kingdom closed
- MGM Studios closed
- Blizzard Beach closed
- Pleasure Island closed
- Walt Disnesy World Resort will return to normal operations in all areas Tuesday, September 7th.

Sunken Gardens closed Sunday.

MOSI closed Sunday.

Florida Aquarium is closed.

All Walt Disney World Resort hotels would remain open throughout the storm.

Busch Gardens of Tampa Bay and Adventure Island will be closed Sunday and Monday.

Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios and Universal CityWalk in Orlando closed Sunday.

From Robert Niles
Posted September 6, 2004 at 9:21 AM
Matthew Armstrong e-mails this report:
If you're wondering why I haven't written any updates recently, we've been without phone/DSL all night. We just got DSL service back, but the World Wide Web is still unavailable. So here's an update if you'd like to post it:

The winds and rain continued all night long. Frances stalled last night, just before reaching the gulf coast, and then started drifting north, dragging a lot of wind and rain back inland. Universal and Sea World are just far enough further East that they likely only caught the edges of the storm bands that were rotating north. However, WDW was right in the thick of it last night.

As of right now, the rain is still falling and we're stilling getting sporadic, strong wind gusts. All theme parks are open except for Sea World which will be opening at noon. With the instability in the atmosphere, outdoor rides will likely be up and down all day long. And if the inhospitable weather continues, I wouldn't be surprised if the parks end up closing early. Unfortunately, this is definately not the ideal Labor Day weather for visiting theme parks.

There is also a voluntary curfew requested by the local police and sherriff's departments. This is due to the slick roads and unpredictable winds, but more importantly by the lack of gasoline in the area. They're asking anyone who does not have to drive to stay at home to conserve as much gasoling as possible for the next several days.

Power continues to fluctuate and we lost our phone service last night and only got it back an hour ago. Things are still pretty sketchy, but I'll post updates as I can.


From Jason Moore
Posted September 7, 2004 at 5:53 AM
Well, it's Tuesday morning and school is still closed. I beleive it has to do with some areas still being without power, the schools needing to recover from their shelter status, and some of the flooding that may still be around. Thankfully I had no damage here, and the worst I had to deal with was 24 hours without power, and the insane stir crazyness.

From Joe Lane
Posted September 7, 2004 at 7:18 AM
All present and accounted for.

The power went out in Tampa around 8AM and was out all day, as near as I can tell. Flooding is widespread. Last night I came back home to Mulberry--just south of Lakeland--and the homestead had been without power for nearly two days at this point. Power came back on around 3 this morning, there's practically no damage, just a few shingles and some limbs.

From Deborah Davis
Posted September 7, 2004 at 12:23 PM
Hey, Pinellas came through alright, as well. We had a few trees come down and lost a few road signs in our area, but the tedium was by far the worst aspect of the storm for us. We lost power for 11 hours Sunday afternoon to Monday early AM, but our Cable TV was out from 2PM Sunday to just 5 minutes ago. When the storm hit the Gulf, it started to intensify, then shot the stronger bands back at us due to its rotation. We had moved most outdoor stuff indoor, so cleanup was mostly oak tree leaves and branches. (Twenty trash bags full from our front yard, alone.) School was cancelled again today, mostly due to a few signal lights being out and a shortage of gas in our area. (Also, some shelters are still open for people without power.) I'm just glad is wasn't worse.

This discussion has been archived, and is not accepting additional responses.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive