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Disney, SeaWorld, Universal step up security, add metal detectors

Visitors to Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Studios in Orlando found metal detectors in place at the entrance gates Thursday morning, and stricter policies are in store at Disney World for toy guns and costumes.

The stepped-up security comes one day after the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin saying it was "especially concerned" that terrorist-inspired attacks may target public events or places.

"It seemed like we have been seeing more of the uniformed security in place in the parks since the Paris attacks," said Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider, an industry blog.

A spokeswoman at Busch Gardens in Tampa refused to comment on the park's security. As of Thursday, there weren't any metal detectors at the park entrance.

Veteran theme park analyst Dennis Speigel said he was not surprised that the attractions installed the metal detectors just before what is typically the busiest time of the year. Security has been visibly stepped up in recent weeks, he said, after attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

"It's a sign of the times," he said. "Metal detectors are here to stay as part of society at schools, hospitals, theaters, at sporting events. You are going to see more and more of this type of security instituted because it's one of the first things they can do."

Before Thursday's changes, Disney employees inspected bags, but there were no metal detectors at the entrances and guests were rarely searched.

Disney and other theme parks have had to wrestle with the "imagery issue" of increasing security, Speigel said. "You go to the happiest place on Earth, but then first you have to go through a metal detector. In their minds, that might not be the experience they want to create."

However, Speigel said his company, Cincinnati-based International Theme Park Services, recently conducted a study for a theme park client and found that security measures had virtually no impact on the visitor experience. "They didn't care as long as they and their families were safe."

Niles also said the theme parkgoers he spoke to didn't seem alarmed.

"I think people are always welcome to friendly security," he said. "They like to see that presence there as long as they are reassuring and not intimidating."

In its statement, Homeland Security said on Wednesday it was "especially concerned that terrorist-inspired individuals and homegrown violent extremists may be encouraged or inspired to target public events or places." It warned people to expect tougher security at large gathering places.

Disney World has had a long prohibition against weapons in the parks. Just last week, a Miami man was detained at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom and found to be carrying a handgun. In 2013, a visitor left his gun on a ride at Animal Kingdom. The apologetic visitor said at the time that he had no idea that Disney prohibited guns on its property, which raised questions about whether the company's restrictions on firearms were explicit enough.

In addition to the metal detectors, Disney has imposed a new ban on toy guns and on costumes for visitors over the age of 14.

Walt Disney World would not say how long its metal detectors would be in place, the Orlando Sentinel reported. SeaWorld said it had installed the devices as part of enhanced security for the holidays. Universal Orlando said it was testing using them as guests approach the theme parks, according to the Sentinel.

Busch Gardens, which does bag searches before visitors enter, would not comment on stepped-up enforcement or metal detectors.

Spokeswoman Karen Varga-Sinka said, "Like other major attractions and law enforcement agencies in the area, we do not comment on the details of our security measures in order to maintain their effectiveness."

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8595. Follow @SharonKWn.

Disney, SeaWorld, Universal step up security, add metal detectors 12/17/15 [Last modified: Thursday, December 17, 2015 8:37pm]
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