Super Bowl security tight with low-flying planes, bomb-sniffing dogs, SWAT officers, police robots
Photo: Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)
Dallas SWAT team member Mark Lang operates a new robotic video camera during the Super Bowl XLV Joint Information Center Media Day where they discuss security surrounding the upcoming game, Friday, January 21, 2011. Participating agencies include Arlington, Dallas, and Fort Worth police and fire departments, Irving police, FBI, ATF, ICE, and DFW Airport DPS. Equipment and safety tools on display will range from bomb detection devices and hazardous material vehicles to K-9s and mounted patrol.
By SCOTT GOLDSTEIN / Staff Writer
Published 27 January 2011 11:04 PM
Don’t be alarmed by those low-flying government planes, bomb-sniffing dogs, magnetometers, high-tech mobile command centers, SWAT officers, police horses or robots you may see throughout North Texas in the run-up to Super Bowl XLV next week, law enforcement officials say.
It’s all part of the massive annual security effort that comes with hosting the big game, which has long been considered a potential terrorist target. For about three years, authorities throughout the region have been meeting to formulate security plans for everything from escorting the teams to and from hotels, protecting NFL facilities, controlling crowds and restricting airspace to keeping traffic flowing.
Though the security effort is largely unprecedented for local officials, it’s nothing new for the NFL personnel who have helped guide the way.
“They got this down to a fine science,” said Arlington police Assistant Chief James Hawthorne.
League officials say that every year is unique and that plans change based in part on advances in technology. But their mantra, as in years past, is that this is the Super Bowl of football and not the Super Bowl of security.
“We do have experience putting on large-scale events … we’ve been planning specifically for this Super Bowl for the last three years,” said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy. “So we’ve engaged multiple agencies on the federal, state and local level to come up with a plan that continues to evolve.”
Local authorities won’t discuss details about much of what goes into protecting the region and Cowboys Stadium for the game itself. They also won’t talk about specific threats or estimated security costs, though McCarthy said the NFL anticipates spending between $5 and $6 million on security.
That figure includes the hiring of outside security firms, and it is higher than what the league has spent on past Super Bowls. McCarthy said the higher cost is not because of any specific threat, but is due to the “size and complexity of venues” in North Texas.
Security operations have been well under way in advance of the teams’ scheduled arrival Monday. An Environmental Protection Agency plane flew low over parts of Dallas and Fort Worth earlier this week to take base-line readings as part of ongoing air quality monitoring for changes that could signal some type of chemical attack on the region.
The FBI will be bringing in about 200 additional agents who are trained to handle active shooters, bombs, and other hazards related to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear threats.
“There’s a lot of resources being used to be sure we don’t have some kind of terrorist incident,” said Special Agent Mark White of the Dallas FBI office. “Each agent will have a special assignment, and it’s not to watch the game.”
Bomb detection dogs from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are sweeping the Dallas Convention Center, site of the NFL Experience, and Sundance Square in Fort Worth, site of ESPN’s set.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will be staying at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel and the Green Bay Packers at the Omni Mandalay in Irving. That means police in those cities are tasked with escorting the teams from the hotels to practice facilities, other events and the game.
Another top security priority for Fort Worth police is the ESPN set, with programming scheduled to begin early Monday morning and run through Sunday night.
ESPN will hire off-duty officers to work security for the set itself, while on-duty city police will be heavily staffed throughout the rest of downtown, said Fort Worth police Capt. Billy Cordell, unified commander for that city’s Super Bowl operations.
“What my goal is, and hope is, is that our visitors walking from the southern end of downtown into the Sundance area or vice versa, they’re going to see police officers and feel safe,” Cordell said.
In Dallas, police have a close eye on the Dallas Convention Center, the league’s headquarters at the Hilton Anatole, the media center at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel and Fair Park, the site of at least 13 events.
Last year’s NBA All-Star Game at Cowboys Stadium, with related events held in downtown Dallas, offered a practice run for Dallas police. But First Assistant Chief Charlie Cato said a key difference with the Super Bowl is the duration of related activities, which got under way this week and run through game day.
“Maintaining protective posture every day for nine, 10 days is what the challenge is,” Cato said. “It’s what differentiates the Super Bowl from those other events.”
Dallas police have said they are also aware of hundreds of parties and other events scheduled throughout the city, but they acknowledge it’s a number that changes daily and that there will be some gatherings that pop up without much warning.
Traffic congestion is among the chief concerns for Dallas police, in part because they know it’s an issue that has plagued past Super Bowl host sites.
“One of the biggest frustrations was the inability to get to the different venues and the different activities that are going on,” Cato said. “So we’ve paid particular attention to our ability to move people about the city.”
They got a taste of that headache firsthand during the NBA All-Star weekend, which was further complicated by a record snowfall.
As a result, Dallas police consulted with traffic engineers about the timing of traffic lights and traffic flow patterns. They say they are confident in a revamped plan to move traffic smoothly through congested areas.
Though the security presence is sure to be impressive in the coming days, it is merely a warm-up for game day. Fans who have a ticket to the Feb. 6 game will experience a level of security they are not accustomed to at good old-fashioned Cowboys games.
“In terms of national security, it doesn’t get any bigger other than a presidential inauguration,” Hawthorne said. “So this is a big deal … we take the security of this event very seriously, and we have to.”
The ATF’s bomb detection labs will sniff out the stadium before the game. The parking lots in the immediate area of the stadium have been transformed into a mix of various party and event venues, none of which are opened to anyone who doesn’t have a ticket.
Fans should arrive extra early and pack light. A detailed list of prohibited game-day items will be released next week, McCarthy said. But he said it will include typically banned items, such as fireworks, camcorders, umbrellas, strollers and beach balls.
Every fan entering the stadium will be subject to a magnetometer wand and “light pat-down,” McCarthy said.
If there is an attempted act of terrorism at the game, the FBI would serve as the lead investigative agency.
Dallas FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Casey Jr. said the screening process “won’t be overly burdensome, but it’s absolutely necessary to ensure a safe and secure environment when you have the attention on this game worldwide that there is, which is 100 million people watching on television.”
Casey and others say they are confident that the years of planning and countless hours of meetings have them well-positioned when it comes to public safety.
“We have no reason to believe this won’t be a safe environment for everyone who wants to attend the game,” said White of the FBI. “But if someone were to try something, it would be a big mistake.”
Staff writer Sherry Jacobson contributed to this report.
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