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What Happened in Walt Disney World During the 9/11 Attack?

The attack on the Twin Towers was an event that shook the world. While Walt Disney World is known to be The Most Magical Place on Earth, ever wonder what happened to this magical place during the September 11 attacks?

On 9/11, cast members calmly herded all tourists out of the parks by establishing a human barricade. At first, guests were confused, and some observed a gunship flying low over Walt Disney World in response to 9/11.

Walt Disney World’s Response to the Attacks of 9/11

Nineteen militants affiliated with the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and launched suicide strikes against U.S. targets. Two of the planes collided with the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City, a third hit with the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. They crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which sparked massive U.S. counterterrorism programs. (Source: History)

Soon afterward, news reports that The Walt Disney Company announced it would be closing all of its theme parks globally. The theme parks’ park crew and cast members received messages from their beepers in about five to ten minutes of the report. The messages were instructions on how they would evacuate the massive parks of millions of visitors.

First, the attractions, restaurants, and gift stores were closed. This maneuver was made to bring the visitors out onto the street. Park personnel were prohibited from informing guests of the true reason for the park’s closure. This announcement resulted in some misunderstandings and irate guests. However, it efficiently avoided causing alarm among the guests.

Then, the morning announcement over the theme parks’ public address systems claimed that The Magic Kingdom had been closed due to circumstances beyond management’s control. Visitors were then instructed to follow the directions of the Cast Member closest to them. The announcement did not mention what had happened outside the parks, just general instructions for the guests.

Once customers were forced to the park’s streets due to the closure of all rides, security told all cast members to hold hands and form a human wall, slowly walking towards the park’s hub and eventually to Main Street. Cast members effectively escorted guests out of the park.

Disney Security monitored each human barrier and ensured that no one passed through. This “human wall method” was carried out concurrently at all four Walt Disney World resort parks. Additionally, guests were given complimentary tickets as they exited the parks. (Source: Huff Post)

Walt Disney World Security Protocol

The Walt Disney World management realized that their parks could be potential targets for terrorism since millions of people visit these daily. The company has anticipated and created a solid evacuation procedure for situations like 9/11. But much like any other place in the nation, Walt Disney World had to rethink its existing security protocols.

In the days that followed 9/11, Walt Disney World’s concept was that everyone had to be checked for suspicious activities. Regardless if you were a visitor, a crew or cast member, or even a vendor of the parks. Everyone was thoroughly checked and cleared before allowing entrance to any of the parks.

The new protocol also allowed the installation of additional CCTVs, as well as adding more K-9 units. Guests’ bags were intensively searched, and security removed suspicious items from the persons who brought them.

Additionally, with federal officials’ assistance, Walt Disney World built ram-resistant gates at employee and vendor entrances and established a no-fly zone over its parks. Local police monitored the outside perimeters of the parks while private security firms patrolled the parks’ grounds.
Today, the Walt Disney World security protocol has also been adjusted in response to the Covid pandemic. WDW implemented touchless systems used to scan bags and take guests’ temperatures in its parks. (Source: Tampa Bay)

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