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Protecting Disney's wonderful world.

It takes more than magic to keep Mickey and the gang safe. Security hosts are the stars of the show when it comes to securing The Walt Disney Studios.

MICKEY MOUSE IS EVerywhere. He is on pens, ties, desks, and dishes. Even the bushes are trimmed in his image. But this is no Mickey Mouse operation. It is The Walt Disney Studios where drawings come to life and movies are made.

Here, even the most famous actors and actresses can work undisturbed, because the Burbank, CA, lot is not open to the public. Surprisingly, the studio doesn't have a problem with crazed fans sneaking in to get autographs, says Jim Chaffee, director of security and traffic management.

The big challenge is thwarting the creative entry attempts of aspiring writers, producers, directors, and actors determined to reach the powers within. During the filming of Sister Act with Whoopie Goldberg, two aspiring actresses dressed as nuns slipped past security gates. While enroute to corporate headquarters, they were apprehended and received a security escort off the lot.

Chaffee's jurisdiction includes the 44-acre Burbank studio lot and 25 off-site locations in the Burbank-Glendale area. He and his staff of 86 protect more than 5,000 employees, among them the company's top executives. They are responsible for everything from unwanted visitors to fires and potential terrorist attacks.

On the main lot, security officers or "security hosts," as they are called here, control access through three entry ways--the Alameda, Buena Vista, and Riverside gates. (Only the Buena Vista gate is open 24 hours.)

The problems they face are magnified when the studio throws a party. Attendance at such gala events is limited to people with invitations, but some guests who go through the trouble of getting invited are unwelcome.

"We had a function in the Rotunda dining area," Chaffee recalls, "and a popular movie star and his family were up there. Somebody got on the studio lot and served him with a subpoena during the function. It didn't make him really happy. But that person had an invitation. We can't control that."

By streamlining gate security, Chaffee has enhanced control where possible. "When I first got here," he says, "we had the main gate, which was the Buena Vista gate. They had two or three people assigned to it and that functioned as the central security department."

Not only did the staff at the Buena Vista gate have to control ride-on traffic, walk-on traffic, pickups, messengers, and subpoena services, but they also had to act as desk sergeant and answer the phones. "They were the central radio system," Chaffee says, "so we developed a central command station. Now all the gates function as gates."

Central command monitors action at all of the gates and other places on the lots--from the employee commissary and the cashier's office to the Team Disney building, home to the company's top executives. The control panel is dotted with lights that flash when there is trouble and phones that ring when assistance is needed. This is a 24-hour dispatch. They handle everything from unwanted visitors to leaking roofs.

The main lot is enclosed by various types of fencing, ranging from chain link to wood. Even though Burbank is a safe area and the studio hasn't had any problems, Chaffee and Ron Anderson, manager of operations, are in the process of evaluating fence alarms. The challenge is finding the right one. "It's hard to find the right technologies so that we don't get a lot of false alarms," Anderson says.

Interior areas of concern are secured by electronics. Currently, 30 cameras watch the lot. For now, however, only the cashier's office is armed with interior access control--and everything else. Chaffee recalls that two armed men came in last October and robbed the cashier's cage. At that time, it was in an area with little electronic security.

"Now our new cashier's area is Fort Knox. We have steel-lined walls. You can't get from office to office without going through wire mesh. We have alarms. We have cameras. It's highly secure," he says.

Disney is also considering installing card access control in its five sound stages. Each cavernous building houses a bit of history--in both black-and-white and color. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Black Hole, and The Mickey Mouse Club came to life on these stages. And during World War II, trucks and anti-aircraft equipment were repaired here.

To start, Anderson hopes to install an access control system on the stage where the TV series Home Improvement is filmed. This technology will give security more control over who enters and leaves the area.

With only five stages, the Disney lot is tiny compared to companies such as Universal, which has 40. Yet, Disney makes more movies worldwide than any other studio. Some of these productions appear under the company banner; others use the names Touchstone Films and Hollywood Pictures. Most are filmed elsewhere because of the limited stage space.

When a movie is shot on location or at another studio, Chaffee and his staff are not responsible for securing the shoot. "The big fire set by a security officer at Universal about two years ago, that was our set," Chaffee recalls. "The most expensive, elaborate set we've ever had. It was built for Oscar, the film with Sylvester Stallone. We had 13 vintage automobiles that burned down."

If the situation is reversed, however, and an outside production company rents Disney's backlot or stages for a television or movie production, it also gets the benefit of Disney's security--from gate access control to fire protection.

Crisis management. During the Gulf War, when tensions were high, Disney implemented an awareness program for all its employees. Called Eye-wareness, the program called on staff members to be aware of their surroundings. Also during that time, packages were x-rayed, and Chaffee was in constant contact with the State Department and the FBI.

But Disney has more immediate concerns--earthquakes, for example. They are such a threat that the animation building was designed to move with the earth. The building has expansion joints in each of its 10 wings, and it is on a roller system.

To deal with Mother Nature's threat, Chaffee has a crisis management person on staff and a written plan that rivals the New York City phone book in size. He and his staff stage disasters and run trial evacuations to make sure all is up to par.

California has also been the setting for man-made disasters. Recently in San Diego, a human resources professional and a supervisor were killed by an employee during an exit interview. For Chaffee, this pushed the threat from disgruntled employees into the forefront.

"We don't know who is capable of doing that kind of thing and there's really no good predictor." Usually the only warning signals are the comments made by the employee prior to the act of violence or destruction. The remarks can be threatening, suicidal, or just complaints of unhappiness with the job.

Chaffee blames modern society for this problem. "I think it's tied into the progress that we've made from the 1900s on up," he says. "People are more stressed."

A host of solutions. Chaffee, who has a background in law enforcement and an MBA, believes one reason his operation is so effective is that he has given special attention to staff morale. "I know, traditionally, security guards are looked down on."

When he came to Disney two years ago, Chaffee realized the problem had permeated his staff. First, he changed the job title to security host to remove any stigma associated with the title security guard. Even that symbolic change had a noticeable effect, says Chaffee. He also determined that the employees were bothered by the military-type uniform. "We wanted a softer look to go along with security host."

Chaffee and his staff presented top management with a choice of several uniforms. The security hosts now wear blazers, slacks, and ties. This, along with the name change and extras like an employee lounge and locker area, has done wonders for the employees and their self-respect, Chaffee asserts.

But Chaffee did not stop there. He and Anderson set up a recognition program, and they continually ask for the hosts' input. "We have a monthly meeting with a representative from each of our shifts," Anderson says. "They come to us with things they'd like to see changed or ideas they have. We discuss them and if they're good, we work on them and implement them."

Anderson says this interaction also helps management. "It is tough for us to look at the situation and see what might be wrong with it from their perspective. We can only see what's wrong with it from our perspective," he explains.

Chaffee and Anderson stress a cerebral approach to security through training. Hosts learn about everything from first aid, crisis management, and fire prevention and suppression, to corporate culture, Disney standards, and ethics. They are taught to use their heads. "The last resort is a physical confrontation," Chaffee says. "And to my knowledge, since I've been here, we haven't had one."

The professionalism of the security personnel is further fostered by the fact that all hosts work full time and receive full benefits. Chaffee and Anderson believe employee satisfaction results from self-respect and pride in a job well done.

That's the key to a great security outfit, Chaffee says. "Treat your people well, and you're going to get payback 10 times."

Lisa Arbetter is editorial assistant at Security Management.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Walt Disney Co. Walt Disney Studios' security system
Author:Arbetter, Lisa
Publication:Security Management
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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