Scanning at The Most Magical Place on Earth

GPRS Locates Utilities at Walt Disney World

Scanning at The Most Magical Place on Earth

GPRS Locates Utilities at Walt Disney World
Front of Cinderella's Castle at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World.
GPRS Project Managers have conducted utility locates all over the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

It’s 2012, and Kyle Kearcher glances up from his task briefly to watch the sun peek over the waters of Seven Seas Lagoon.

The “Most Magical Place on Earth” is bathed in golden light just as Kearcher and his fellow GPRS Project Managers wrap up their work. They take extra care to ensure they leave the brick pavers underfoot unblemished, so that the thousands of families that will soon flood the area have no indication of the work that took place while they were fast asleep.

Kearcher, Adam Yunker, and Justin Rasonow performed utility locates around the entrance to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

The trio used ground penetrating radar scanning and electromagnetic (EM) locating to evaluate spots where Disney intended to install thin metal posts at each of the park’s ticket kiosks. Their job was to ensure that this new infrastructure did not conflict with any existing subsurface items – a tall task at a venue that opened in 1971 and has undergone a slew of upgrades and renovations in the decades since.

What Kearcher, Yunker, and Rasonow didn't know at the time was that they played a part in the installation of a technology that revolutionized the visitor experience, not just at the Magic Kingdom, but across many Disney properties.

Their focus in the moment – as it is with every job that GPRS tackles – was on ensuring that our client could do their work safely, and on time and budget.

“It was a typical locate for us,” said Kearcher, who today serves as a GPRS Field Service Director. “The job was ‘We need you to locate utilities. We’re going to be installing some posts. We’re going to be upgrading the entrance here’… It didn’t actually come to me until halfway through, or maybe near the completion of the project, realizing what we were actually doing and why we were doing it.”

The posts Disney planned to install turned out to be the now-iconic receivers for the company’s MagicBand system.

Adorned with softball-sized spheres emblazoned with light-up Mickey ear symbols, these stations sit at the entrances and in front of the ride queues of all four of the Disney World theme parks. They act as the readers for the MagicBands themselves: plastic, brightly colored Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) wristbands that allow park guests to do everything from check into their hotel rooms to skip the lines at their favorite attractions.

The development, installation, and implementation of the MagicBand system was a years-long process. When it came time to implement the system, Disney could not afford the disaster that a utility strike would have wrought on its schedule, budget, and reputation.

GPRS utility locating services mitigate the risk of utility strikes by creating a comprehensive picture of the built world beneath a jobsite. When utilized by our highly trained Project Managers, GPR scanning and EM locating work in concert to pinpoint the location of any buried utilities such as electrical, water, gas, or fiber lines so that these items can be avoided during excavation or other destructive activities.

The MagicBand project was one of Kearcher’s first major assignments in his role as a GPRS Project Manager. The Southwest Michigan native had only recently moved to the Orlando area when he was picked to be part of the team that would locate utilities at Walt Disney World.

What gave Kearcher the confidence to tackle such a large project so early in his GPRS career was the extensive training regimen he underwent when he joined the company.

GPRS Project Managers are trained using the industry-leading Subsurface Investigation Methodology, or SIM, which requires utility locators to log 320 hours of field training and 80 hours of classroom training. Through this program, GPRS Project Managers experience real-world scenarios, both in the classroom and in the field, that prepare them for any challenges they may encounter on an actual jobsite.

This training served Kearcher and his fellow Project Managers well as they tackled the herculean task of scanning in Disney’s sprawling Florida resort.

“It was very cool to be able to do that and start to understand the ins and outs of the parks, being behind the scenes ¬– back-of-house, they call it,” Kearcher said. “It was very interesting. Who knew there was an elaborate tunnel system under the castle and everything else on property?”

That tunnel system is called the Utilidor system, and it plays a big role in the unique way utilities are routed throughout the Magic Kingdom. Due to the elevated water table in Central Florida, Disney built the park above ground level. Underneath the rides, restaurants, and gift shops runs a network of tunnels through which Disney routes its utilities, trash services, and everything else they don’t want guests to see.

And Disney definitely doesn’t want guests inconvenienced by construction safety teams or seeing unsightly utility markings on its thoroughfares. Kearcher, Yunker, and Rasonow could only work at night, which added a layer of complexity to the task.

“I remember the sun coming up in the morning as we were trying to finish up some scanning and utility mapping,” Kearcher said. “Disney has a very elaborate system with all of their plans and their as builts, and so they have a full map of each park and their subsurface utilities. So, they were gracious enough to print those off for us and we used those to mark up our findings.”

The team had to use non-permanent methods to mark their findings, such as painter’s tape, crayon, and chalk, so that everything could be cleaned away well before the first guests arrived in the morning.

This type of request is not unusual. GPRS Project Managers regularly tailor our services to meet our customers’ needs, including tweaking how we mark out our findings.

Kearcher explained that GPR was still a relatively new method for locating utilities when he, Yunker, and Rasonow worked at the Magic Kingdom. Because of this, the group’s site contact from Disney was just as interested in how they were doing their work as he was in the accuracy of the findings.

“They were very trusting of us and the equipment, but it was a learning process for both of us, helping them understand our capabilities,” Kearcher said. “Once we established those boundaries, and expectations of capabilities, it started to work really well.”

So well, in fact, that GPRS continues to have a relationship with Disney to this day.

A man conducts a utility locate at EPCOT.
GPRS Project Manager Kyle Kearcher has performed utility locates across Walt Disney World, including in EPCOT.

At GPRS, we have the utility locating, precision concrete scanning, 3D laser scanning, video (CCTV) pipe inspection, leak detection, and mapping & modeling services to keep your people safe, and your project on time and budget. Our nationwide network of Project Managers ensure you always have these projects near you, no matter where your jobsite is located, and they have the training, experience, and state-of-the-art tools to help you Intelligently Visualize The Built World™.  

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