While the Tower of Terror simulates one of many people’s fear of a free-falling elevator, naming it “Tower of Terror” is just for show – the simulated free-fall is actually a highly controlled, very safe experience. Disney takes rider safety very seriously – after all, Disney has a worldwide, multi-billion dollar brand to protect. Read on to learn more about the Tower of Terror safety features.
If you rode the Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror in its early years, you might remember the shared lap bar that inevitably stopped far too high for small riders. The shared lap bar was replaced in the early 2000s by individual seat belts, which allowed for personalized restraint and for a greater feeling of freedom while on the ride.
DCA and later versions have always featured individual seatbelts.
Smile, You’re on Camera!
The Tower’s ride operators can see and hear the car passengers the entire ride. Yup, even as you’re posing for the camera or making a silly face during the descent…
It’s someone’s job to watch the live video stream of the car’s passengers in a hidden monitor room. In the event of an unintended stop, a cast member makes an announcement over the PA that they can see and hear the passengers and emergency assistance is just a shout away.
Your Seat Belt is Monitored
Riders who don’t connect (or somehow disconnect) their safety belts cause the ride to stop and a cast member to ask them (over the PA) to re-buckle. As you board the elevator car, look low and to the right and you should see a panel of green lights. These lights are used to indicate which belts are buckled and the bellhop cast member who loads your elevator car checks it before you depart. Belt buckle status is monitored throughout the ride, too.
Yup, lightning really does strike the Tower! But unlike in the pre-show video, the present-day Tower of Terror is equipped with lightning rods to redirect lightning away from the structure.
Traction elevators (the kind suspended by a cable) are suspended by anywhere from two to eight woven steel cables, any of which can support the loaded elevator on its own.
Like many theme park attractions (and real life elevators), the Tower is equipped with several different kinds of emergency breaks. Some sources say the TOT has 8 different braking mechanisms.
The first set of brakes is sometimes referred to as “Otis Brakes” which were designed and popularized by the Otis Elevator Company. These brakes serve to lock the car in place should the hoisting cables fail for whatever reason. Typically, the brakes are a set of heavy duty rods under tension by the cable. If the cable’s tension were to slacken, the rods would slam down against the roof of the elevator and catch the cabin. In other designs, the elevator jams a wedge into the rail that the elevator normally moves along.
The Otis Elevator Company is still around today and in fact contributed to the design of the Tower’s lift system.
These green boxes (pictured at right) contain springs highly pressurized by oil, ready to cushion the landing of an elevator car that reaches the bottom of the elevator shaft. The shock absorbers aren’t for long-distance falls, but they do help in situations where the computer “misses” the ground floor by a few centimeters (a meter at most) to make the landing softer.
Codes & Inspections
The states of Florida and California have numerous laws aimed at keeping park riders safe. Disney employs a large workforce of saftey technicians, mechanics, engineers, and maintenance workers. Daily, monthly, and annual inspections are routine in all amusement parks. Hours before guests arrive, technicians are running the attraction through its paces, testing every seat belt, every car, and every inch of track.
Compressed Air Cushion
In the extremely unlikely event of a complete free-fall, a massive buildup of compressed air below the elevator would slow the descent. This is true even of conventional elevators. In one well-known case of a free falling elevator, the “air cushion” is believed to be one of the reasons Betty Lou Oliver survived a 75-story plummet in a free-falling elevator in 1945.
Good Ol’ Statistics
Elevators are the safest form of mechanized travel when measured by number of trips. Annually speaking, about 18 billion trips are made in 900,000 elevators in the USA. Injuries to passengers are exceedingly rare.