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Risk management on parade.

Three years ago, Disney selected the location of the All-Star Game at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium to premiere its movie, Angels In The Outfield, using the latest in film technology -- it was projected onto three large screens in the open air above second base. The event came off without a hitch.

A year later, Disney upped the ante by debuting Pocahontas to a crowd of 100,000 on the Great Lawn in New York's Central Park. Guests delighted in viewing this feature animation film on an even bigger format, four 80-foot by 120-foot screens constructed from sea containers. Again everyone went home happy; no guest claims resulted. "We learned a lot," says Gary Weaver, senior vice president, operations, of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, a division of ABC, Inc., a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. "We knew we could do it again."

The next time out, Disney pulled out all stops. The Hunchback of Notre Dame inspired multiple venues in New Orleans, with a live stage show and the film premiering to 60,000 guests inside the Louisiana Superdome, all of which was preceded by a two-mile parade enjoyed by an estimated 250,000 spectators. "We used local bands and talent to complement the parade units and characters from our theme parks to entertain the crowds," says Mr. Weaver. Cast members (employees) from nearby, locations of The Disney Store sold event-specific merchandise along the parade route. We also coordinated a televised broadcast of the events for The Disney Channel, all of which required teamwork, planning and synergy." Once again, a first-class event was pulled off without incident.

In June of this year, Disney achieved what might have seemed unthinkable -- at least to native New Yorkers. At 9:15 on a Saturday night, after the VIP premiere of its full-length feature animation film, Hercules, at its newly refurbished New Amsterdam Theater, Disney arranged to have the lights turned off along the parade route for the Hercules Electrical Parade. Streetlights, billboards, offices and apartment buildings were dark along the route, from 42nd Street to Fifth Avenue at 66th Street. Some 67 speaker towers were constructed along the route as were television and press platforms, scaffolding for lighting and bleachers for invited guests.

Months before the premiere Disney started planning with many New York City departments, including the Mayor's office, police, fire, transportation and sanitation departments. Also coordinated were emergency medical services, 5,000 businesses, 6,000 volunteers, tenants and building owners, engineers and technicians, all in preparation for the attendance of some two million spectators. A concurrent event was scheduled downtown at the Chelsea Piers on the lower West Side of Manhattan, involving more staff, merchandise, food and entertainment, all under a huge tent for several thousand more fans.

Once again, it was a flawless evening. "We were blessed with good weather, but we made our good luck with extensive planning," says Mr. Weaver, whose responsibility for operations supporting these events has made him a big fan of risk management. "We're the best at what we do, and safety is a big part of it." Mr. Weaver says that these premieres don't happen by accident. "There's a lot of teamwork throughout the company and risk management is an essential member of the team." The risk management department does not say no to Disney's Special Events team's spectacular ideas; risk management asks how they can facilitate the safety of the show.

The luck" Disney has enjoyed relates back to the company's operating philosophy of safety, courtesy, show and efficiency, with safety coming first. For instance, the "load-in," or installation, for the Hercules Electrical Parade was a massive undertaking in and of itself. It began with a cross-country trek from Disneyland, where the Electrical Parade had been a Main Street mainstay at the Anaheim theme park for the last 25 years. "We reassembled the parade units in a warehouse on the West Side of Manhattan," says Mr. Weaver. Load-in also encompassed the creation of the speaker towers, bleachers, street paintings, platforms and scaffolding.

The "load-out" can be equally challenging from a safety standpoint. "An accident can occur after an event is over, when everyone is breathing a sigh of relief and the energy and adrenalin from the show has stopped flowing," says Mr. Weaver. Again, load-in and load-out for the Hercules Electrical Parade and Chelsea Piers went off smoothly. Of course, there were weeks of work, piles of certificates of insurance and the necessary permits for the parade and related activities. Disney agreed to indemnify building and business owners along the parade route as well as the city for any damages arising out of Disney's negligent handling of the event. Workers' compensation coverage was arranged to support the event, as was property coverage for the enormous equipment values at stake.

"The risk management team alerts us to possible concerns," says Mr. Weaver. "They create awareness and provide expertise needed for the development of contingency plans." For instance, the tent that was set up at Chelsea Piers was equipped with an anemometer to measure wind velocity. The risk management and operations teams monitored the velocity and were poised to execute an evacuation plan had one been required.

The operations and risk management groups have worked together on Disney's special events. "We've been fortunate," concludes Mr. Weaver. "But we've also been well-prepared and safety has always been a primary concern.

By the morning after the Hercules premiere, there was hardly a trace of the Electrical Parade. So what's next for Disney? "We keep our planning under wraps," Mr. Weaver says. "It all contributes to the impact and the success of an event."
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Title Annotation:Success Stories '97; Walt Disney Co's event management
Publication:Risk Management
Date:Dec 1, 1997
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