The Disney Operational Command Center

December 27th, 2010

I am a huge fan of Disney World. I will be visiting the happiest place on Earth next week. Disney is so well run, it makes me think that in certain contexts, centralized planning is possible 😉 It turns out part of their massive control is the Disney Operational Command Center. From today’s NY Times, Disney Tackles Major Theme Park Problem: Lines.

To handle over 30 million annual visitors — many of them during this busiest time of year for the mega-resort — Disney World long ago turned the art of crowd control into a science. But the putative Happiest Place on Earth has decided it must figure out how to quicken the pace even more. A cultural shift toward impatience — fed by video games and smartphones — is demanding it, park managers say. To stay relevant to the entertain-me-right-this-second generation, Disney must evolve.

And so it has spent the last year outfitting an underground, high-tech nerve center to address that most low-tech of problems, the wait. Located under Cinderella’s castle, the new center uses video cameras, computer programs, digital park maps and other whiz-bang tools to spot gridlock before it forms and deploy countermeasures in real time.

In one corner, employees watch flat-screen televisions that depict various attractions in green, yellow and red outlines, with the colors representing wait-time gradations.

If Pirates of the Caribbean, the ride that sends people on a spirited voyage through the Spanish Main, suddenly blinks from green to yellow, the center might respond by alerting managers to launch more boats.

Control? Yep, Disney’s got that.

“Control is Disney’s middle name, so they have always been on the cutting edge of this kind of thing,” said Bob Sehlinger, co-author of “The Unofficial Guide: Walt Disney World 2011” and a writer on Disney for Mr. Sehlinger added, “The challenge is that you only have so many options once the bathtub is full.”

How does Disney nudge congestion from one place to another? They start a parade!

What if Fantasyland is swamped with people but adjacent Tomorrowland has plenty of elbow room? The operations center can route a miniparade called “Move it! Shake it! Celebrate It!” into the less-populated pocket to siphon guests in that direction. Other technicians in the command center monitor restaurants, perhaps spotting that additional registers need to be opened or dispatching greeters to hand out menus to people waiting to order.

This is pretty cool. Total omniveillance.