The biggest game of America's biggest sport rolls out on the biggest stage with the highest stakes for teams, spectators, and fans.
It's also a pretty big deal for professionals in homeland security and other fields who are charged with securing the build-up, the surrounding festivities, and the big game.
Three officers from different security realms shared their insights into preparing and executing plans to keep the Super Bowl safe and lawful. Although their responsibilities are different, all of them pointed to long periods of lead time and thick networks of partners as keys to success. All three officers explained how their roles extend widely in space and time beyond the game and the stadium.
Ray Parmer, ICE
Ray Parmer, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for the New Orleans Region, began serving in September 2011 as the Federal Coordinator for Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.
Danny Barkley, FBI
Danny Barkley, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge in Indianapolis, worked with local, state, and federal law enforcement officials on Super Bowl XLVI in the Indiana capital. He was the FBI-Indianapolis Division lead for all Super Bowl XLVI planning and security.
Randy Spear, USAF
United States Air Force (USAF) Col., Randy Spear, began working in late 2012 on establishing a temporary flight restriction (TFR) over New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII.
In the scope of high-profile events, the Super Bowl is big, but not as big as National Special Security Events, such as conventions of major political parties, presidential inaugurations, or summits of world leaders. For those events, the United States Secret Service takes the lead for planning, coordinating, and implementing security. President Bill Clinton in Presidential Decision Directive 62 (PDD-62) established this authority in 1998.
Large-scale events such as the Super Bowl reside one step down in the hierarchy of security significance. In events of this magnitude, local municipalities take the lead for security, Special Agent in Charge Parmer said. However, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 (HSPD-5) also comes into play. The directive establishes the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and designates the Secretary of Homeland Security as the lead for coordinating federal operations "to prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies."
For these types of events, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano typically designates a federal coordinator to ensure that local officials have the resources they need, Parmer said.
HSPD-5 specifies the United States Attorney General for lead responsibility, generally acting through the FBI, for criminal investigations of terrorist threats or acts.
"The interagency recognizes that this is a complementary function, not a competing function," Parmer said. "We're all after the same thing, to ensure the welfare of the general public, and that it's a successful event for all involved."
FBI: Anticipating Any Possible Scenario
Special Agent Barkley spent 2½ years preparing for Super Bowl XLVI. He worked within a planning structure similar to the one that HSI Special Agent Parmer used as federal coordinator. For Super Bowl XLVI, FBI-Indianapolis formed a five-member executive board consisting of the FBI-Indianapolis Division Special Agent in Charge, Superintendent for the Indiana State Police, City of Indianapolis Public Safety Director, Chief of the Indianapolis Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. Secret Service-Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge. The board was the controlling entity for the 18 subcommittees, Special Agent Barkley said.
In his ongoing role at the FBI, Special Agent Barkley has responsibilities over National Security and Intelligence, Special Events Management, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. For Super Bowl XLVI, he also was responsible for the Joint Operations Center and the Intelligence Operations Center. The FBI established these interagency command posts to manage terrorist threats or incidents and to conduct investigative and intelligence activities.
Super Bowl security was a joint effort involving 45 agencies, 700 federal officers, and 1,700 state and local officers, Special Agent Barkley said.
"It was the largest event I've ever been involved in," he said. "Probably the biggest challenge is just the basic understanding of the enormity of the event. Many people think that it is the 3½- to 4-hour event of the actual game, but the events surrounding that occurred for 10 days prior to it. We had to provide for security for that entire time."
Training was essential to the process from the very beginning, he said.
"You're training for every type of event or every potential possibility that there may be," he said. "You're trying to incorporate that into some of your planning process. There will always be things that come up that you have to make adjustments for. Even then, you're still making adjustments within some of that training expertise."
The NFL Experience in Indianapolis was organized along a four to five block closed section of Georgia Street near Lucas Oil Stadium. This consolidated area offered advantages to security planning, Special Agent Barkley said. Planners were able to set a goal of responding to calls within three minutes. In contrast, the activities for Super Bowl XLV spread over a 50-mile radius in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. For that area, a three-minute response would not have been possible.
In Indianapolis, planners expected large crowds during Super Bowl week, but they did not expect the surprisingly balmy midwinter weather, which drew more fans than anticipated, he said.
"I think the numbers of people crowded into that Georgia Street area probably surprised us a little bit, but we were able to quickly maneuver resources and get people prepositioned," he said.
In addition to the 75,000 fans in the stadium, roughly 1.1 million people visited Georgia Street over 10 days, Special Agent Barkley said. Over that time, officers had to deal with numerous incidents of suspicious packages, most inadvertently left behind by visitors. Officers met the three-minute response goal, scanned and analyzed packages on the scene, and quickly informed the Joint Operations Center of the outcome. None of the packages turned out to be harmful to the public.
Early in their Super Bowl security planning, Special Agent Parmer and Special Agent Barkley took part in a program where officials in the early stages of planning visit the site of the upcoming Super Bowl to experience the process at a more mature stage of development. Special Agent Barkley visited Dallas and Miami operations, and Special Agent Parmer visited Indianapolis.
"It was very enlightening. I got to observe the dynamics between the federal coordination team and the local officials and learned some of the slippery slopes to avoid," Special Agent Parmer said. "It's essential to be forthright in your communications, and try to be as transparent as possible with all the parties involved."
ICE: We're Here to Provide Support
Among the local needs that this process identified was tactical or SWAT support. ICE HSI and the FBI contributed tactical teams to supplement the city's team, and each team took responsibility for a different part of the city to achieve complete coverage, Special Agent in Charge Parmer said.
From an ICE HSI perspective, Special Agent in Charge Parmer also focused on human trafficking, especially with regard to prostitution, and on intellectual property rights violations including selling counterfeit merchandise and tickets.
Mardi Gras posed a challenge for security planning, as the carnival season would overlap with the game. Planners ordered parades to be shut down in New Orleans but not in neighboring Jefferson Parish. As a result, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office and Louisiana State Police are challenged with being available to incidents in support of the New Orleans Police Department during the Super Bowl period, Special Agent in Charge Parmer said.
In another area of security, the city received equipment and expertise for scanning and screening people and materials. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Office of Field Operations was prepared to screen all the deliveries to the Superdome during Super Bowl week. Personnel from ICE HSI's Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) provided security and screened drivers at the x-ray site. "That screening process, whether it be individuals or cargo or whatever, is a big part of what we're doing to assist the city," Special Agent in Charge Parmer said. He described the screening and credentialing of workers: "Everyone working the game, whether it's a vendor or an employee of the Superdome, or law-enforcement personnel—all the names are vetted. Everyone has background checks run on them—a thorough screening process. Depending on what their role is for the day of the game, or events leading up to the game, they're provided with credentials that will get them that level of access. If they don't need to be in the Superdome, if they're working right outside, in the vending area, or maintenance work, they will have a credential they will wear in full view at all times reflecting their level of access to the venue. There are a series of rings from inside out, with inside the Superdome obviously being the most restricted."
For game day, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Air and Marine (OAM) was prepared to provide enforcement of the aerial temporary flight restriction zone and an aerial video feed to the city's emergency operations center to show any disturbance on the ground and allow officials to respond promptly.
Beyond the Superdome during Super Bowl Week, the NFL Fan Experience became a factor in security. Planners located the interactive theme park for football enthusiasts at the New Orleans Convention Center, near the Mississippi River and about three-fourths of a mile from the stadium. The New Orleans Harbor Police, U.S. Coast Guard, ICE HSI, and CBP—all partners in the DHS maritime Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST)—stood ready to patrol the area.
Looking back over the months of planning, Special Agent in Charge Parmer said training provided by the DHS Special Events Working Group that he helped arrange for local and state officials throughout the process ranked high among the gratifying outcomes.
"In my role as the federal coordinator, one of the most satisfying aspects has been providing a beneficial service to the city—the city in which I live and work," Special Agent in Charge Parmer said. "We've got a lot of positive feedback all through this process."
USAF: Squawking and Talking
A temporary flight restriction (TFR) for an event like the Super Bowl is designed to account for authorized aircraft in an air space and readily identify any aircraft that are not following procedures. Like the terrestrial Super Bowl security efforts, TFRs can require months of planning, but they are typically focused on game day.
In an event within the United States, the military works in support of an agency that has authority over the event, USAF Col. Randy Spear said. To establish a TFR, the Air Force works with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the primary federal coordinators of the security effort.
Early meetings bring to light the aircraft in the area flown by law-enforcement and medical agencies, as well as commercial and general aviation interests.
"We have to start coordinating early to find out who's supposed to be there and who's not," Col. Spear said. "Nobody's trying to shut all that down, but we also need to be able to put some restrictions in place that help us determine when somebody's up to no good in a TFR." Colonel Spear, who retired on Nov. 20, served as commander of the 601st Air and Space Operations Center based at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The new commander is Col. Thomas Cucchi. The center is responsible for addressing any aviation threat to the citizens of the United States and to U.S. critical infrastructure.
Col. Spear described a typical scenario for a TFR, with outer and inner rings of restriction. For example, within a 30 nautical mile circle, aircraft would be required to transmit a specific transponder code and contact air-traffic controllers. These requirements are standard for major cities and therefore easy to implement for Super Bowls.
"In the outer ring, if you have somebody show up who's not talking with air-traffic control or not squawking and following their procedures, that makes them stick out really quick," Col. Spear said.
An area within a 10 nautical mile ring would be more restricted. In this closer circle, only commercial or private aircraft that have been through Transportation Security Administration security screening would be allowed.
If an aircraft fails to respond to transmitted warnings, a fixed-wing aircraft or a helicopter from the USAF or one of its partners, such as CBP or U.S. Coast Guard, would be designated to run an intercept. The interceptor would pull from a menu of attention-getting techniques to communicate with the wayward aircraft.
"We've got signboards in helicopters that say 'Contact air-traffic control' and give the frequency," Col. Spear said. Pilots also would use standardized worldwide signals that indicate "follow me" or "turn." A pilot may rock the wings, fly across the nose of the aircraft, or drop flares in front of the offending craft. "We'll also look in the cockpit and try to characterize who or what is going on inside the cockpit, and to help us characterize that threat as well," he said.
If an offending pilot refused to respond, pilots and other administrators of the TFR could consult two important resources for making assessments about air traffic. First, a domestic event network functions as an unclassified conference call available at all times for discussions among the FAA, security partners, airlines, and others, for matters that range from a drunken passenger disrupting a flight to more serious developments. Also, a classified network provides resources for quickly gathering information on a problem aircraft and to characterize the threat.
"If a person doesn't budge, that's where decision making gets tough—trying to figure out why he's there, characterize the threat," Col. Spear said. "He may be just somebody who doesn't understand the signals. Or it could be a full-out terrorist attack. We have a very tight interagency partnership with lots of people who would be gathering information to see if there's any kind of intel that would help us decide whether this is a bad guy or not."
"And as an absolute last measure, we would be prepared to shoot them down if we were under attack."