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Quarterbacking the Super Bowl

With almost a billion viewers, the Super Bowl is one of the most watched sporting events in the world. It is also one of the most attended, with thousands of fans typically there to see the action live. This year’s Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Florida, was no exception. The stadium was packed, with two former U.S. Presidents and singer Paul McCartney in attendance among the VIPs. In a post-9­11 world, that level of attendance and VIP presence makes for an attractive terrorist target, and therefore, security has to be a top priority.

To address the safety and security concerns, multiple local, state, and federal agencies were involved, which could have complicated efforts to coordinate activities. Getting so many players to work together on the same team went smoothly, however. Here’s how the security team reached the goal line.

When Sheriff John Rutherford heard that his city had been designated the host city of Super Bowl XXXIX, he was filled with pride. Rutherford had another reason to be both proud and anxious: his office was named as lead agency to provide the security for the event.

Jacksonville is a football town, home to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Alltel Stadium, which hosts more than a dozen high-profile football games, such as the Gator Bowl, each year. So the city is familiar with the challenges of large events. But that doesn’t explain why a local law enforcement agency was asked to plan and execute security for the Super Bowl. Rutherford got the job of quarterbacking the big event in part because his agency has more clout and responsibilities than many other sheriff’s offices.

Jacksonville consolidated its city and county governments in 1968, leaving the sheriff’s office to run all the law enforcement functions for both the County of Duval and the City of Jacksonville. The sheriff’s office, with a law enforcement staff of about 1,700 sworn officers, some 685 correctional officers, plus 350 civilian employees, presides over 840 square miles and more than 850,000 people. Rutherford explains how that’s an advantage.

“That means we have no jurisdictional issues between the city and the county. We also have a great working relationship with surrounding law enforcement agen­cies, both at the state and federal level, in­cluding the regional FBI office,” he says.

The city also has a well-developed emergency-operations center in place at its fire and rescue headquarters, out of which 16 different groups, including law enforcement, medical emergency response, fire and rescue, transportation, communications, public health, public works, and the U.S. Coast Guard operate. Having this center in place gave the county good field position in its preparations for the Super Bowl.

Coordination. But that’s not to say the process was easy. Managing such a large public event over many days and at many different venues in a post-9-11 world presented Sheriff Rutherford with some new challenges.

“When we were named as the host city for the Super Bowl back in 2000, our concerns for security were really around traffic control and crowd control,” the sheriff recalls. However, since 9-11, those con­cerns have changed to include fear of a terrorist attack.

ICS. Coordinating so many players could have been a nightmare were it not for the incident command system (ICS), a federally developed system that governs the structure of an emergency preparedness and response effort. ICS is a feature of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), a management approach approved by the Department of Homeland Security that creates standardized incident-management processes, proto­cols, and procedures for all responders.

A key aspect of ICS is the designation of an incident commander and command staff. In this case, Sheriff Rutherford was named incident commander, meaning that he had final say over every aspect of the security effort. This ensured that the many agencies involved in the protection effort knew exactly who was in charge. It thereby helped to prevent turf battles that would have been caused by an un­clear organizational chart.

Players. Early on, the Jacksonville Sher¬iff’s Office (JSO) began reaching out to different agencies for help in providing the security for an anticipated influx of visitors to the city. Some 53 different groups, including the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Se­curity, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, ultimately got involved in the effort. Sheriff Ruther­ford likens the experience to a Pro Bowl for law enforcement—where the best players from every team are brought to­gether for a single game.

Command centers. The big game was the main event, but not the only one by far. Multiple events were planned for the 10 days leading up to and including the game, and all of these had to be protected. Several major security centers were established as focal points around the area to help the team coordinate security at the 35 venues where all of these related events were being held.

The first center was the Event Operations Center, located in the Fire and Rescue Headquarters Building in downtown Jacksonville. This was the top-level command post for the Super Bowl. It was staffed by the incident command team, comprising the sheriff, the undersheriff, the fire chief, and the fire chief’s second in command. In addition, there were representatives from all the law enforcement agencies as well as from fire and ambulance services.

Also included were staff members from other regional groups that play a role in public safety and communications: public works, phone and utility companies, public health, and epidemiology, to name a few. This unified command group held daily meetings at 4 p.m. during which representatives from all 53 of the groups shared the latest intelligence. The group then released situational reports twice each day to everyone involved in the security effort, reviewing events from the previous 12 hours and looking ahead to the following 12 hours.

The JSO operations center, located in the Veteran’s Memorial Arena adjacent to Alltel Stadium, was staffed with members of the JSO operations command staff. In the event of an attack on the JSO, the Joint Operations Center would have become the lead command post.

The Intelligence Operations Center and Joint Operations Center were set up at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) headquarters and staffed with representatives from intelligence operations at agencies including the FBI, FDLE, JSO, and Secret Service. Inside the stadium itself, the NFL security booth provided on-site security and surveillance services.

Other facilities included the Communications Center set up in the Police Memorial Building a few blocks away from the Event Operations Center, which housed 28 dispatchers responsible for communicating with officers on the ground; the Marine Operations Center deployed at the Naval Air Station; and several bomb management centers at strategic locations around the city.

The protective effort needed to expand even farther, because players from the competing football teams, the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, stayed at the Renaissance Resort at the

World Golf Village and the Marriott at Sawgrass, respectively. Mobile protective units monitored the teams’ practices and comings and goings.

Air and sea. To provide security in the air, the government imposed temporary flight restrictions for a ten-mile radius around Alltel Stadium on game day. On the ground, security checkpoints for pedestrians and traffic control were supplemented by officers diving to check the hulls of the cruise ships before they entered the harbor.

Regular police patrols cruised the St. Johns River, which splits the city in half and creates some unique security issues. For example, the river is typically heavily transited by boating enthusiasts as well as by commercial boats; all of this traffic was blocked in the run up to, and during, the big game. Also, six cruise ships were docked on the river to serve as overflow hotels for the Super Bowl crowds, and the checkpoints, patrols, and no-fly zones helped to protect these as well.

Communication Challenges

The interwoven responsibilities of the different local, state, and federal agencies required an unprecedented level of collaboration and communication. If the different groups couldn’t communicate, the protective effort might not work.

Lieutenant Randy Russell, an 18-year veteran of the JSO, was the lead resource planner for the sheriff’s office. He was responsible for the credentialing and staffing of more than 4,000 assignments designated for the event under the auspices of the 53 different partners working with the JSO. Early on, he realized that traditional methods of planning and communication would not be sufficient.

“The sheriff’s office began actively planning for the Super Bowl 18 months ahead of the game,” Russell says. Part of this, as required by ICS, meant coordinating among the various groups the development of incident action plans (IAPs), which outlined a chronological set of events that were supposed to happen at every venue and at every assignment for all land, sea, and air initiatives.

At first, Russell says, these IAPs were on paper in stacks of binders after scores of face-to-face meetings, phone calls, faxes, and e-mails. But this wasn’t an efficient way of coordinating incident action plans for so many different groups. “We were all working towards the same end, yet none of us had the big picture. We needed a way to share information and see the evolution of the operation as a whole,” Russell explains.

At the same time, Beth Horn, information technology officer in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, had similar concerns about communications during the event. “The Super Bowl presented us with a totally new set of parameters.

“We knew in advance that the 53 different agencies would be communicating with each other, and that the dispatchers would be communicating with the officers on the ground,” she says.

“Regular radio communications are fine within an agency’s frequency, but don’t allow for cross-agency communications,” she explains. “And the dispatchers that receive the 911 calls and communicate with officers on the street did not have a way to talk with their counterparts or the command staff to give situational awareness,” she adds.

In addition, says Rutherford, “It was impossible to see everything going on from the Command Center. In the past, if we needed more information about an incident on the ground, we used golf carts to venture out into the crowds.”

That was clearly not the optimal way to handle security. And with the upcoming Super Bowl, it was no longer considered sufficient.

A high-tech solution. Horn heard about a communications solution that was used to manage security when President George Bush and Senator John Kerry met for the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and she decided to investigate.

The Web-based product she found was E-Sponder, created by Convergence Communications (the author’s company). ES-ponder runs on the Microsoft Office platform. It uses Microsoft Office 2003 SharePoint Portal Server to facilitate online collaboration so that credentialed agencies can exchange information and communicate with each other in real time using a Web browser.

The system is designed so that any information that is entered by a user is instantly available to anyone else on the system. Once the data is entered, it’s archived for comprehensive after-action review. That meant it would also be a good way for all security personnel to review their security plans after the event.

Anyone with access to the Web-based E-Sponder could enter an incident as it occurred, and everyone else would see that event. For example, if a 911 call came in about a suspicious vehicle on the highway, an officer pursuing the vehicle who had access to E-Sponder could update the system in real time, allowing others to track the event via E-Sponder so that they would immediately know what was happening and whether they should avoid that area. If the driver was arrested, information on the arrest would be available for users to see as well.

Situational awareness. The system also helped to keep participants informed about the status of events as they unfolded and gave those in charge an easy way to stay apprised of the big picture. For example, commanding officers like Sheriff Rutherford could track each event from their desktop computers, seeing whether it was pending, completed, or overdue.

Sheriff Rutherford says that he had, from a command perspective, the ability to immediately assess where everybody was in the execution of the different IAPs, and to know that everybody else on the system was seeing the same information. “That meant we had achieved 100 percent situational awareness,” he says.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the way the solution handled the unplanned events that occurred during the festivities. For example, a car accident blocked traffic near the event, and as soon as an officer on the ground radioed the incident, the dispatcher entered it into the E-Sponder system to make the information instantly available for everyone else on the system to view. Staff members in all the command centers immediately began collaborating on an effective response to the situation as it unfolded.

Staff members also used the system to dig deeper into events, allowing them to, for example, determine precisely who was responding to a particular incident. “I monitored an unplanned event where a suspicious bag was being investigated, and I was able to find out not only the names of the two officers that responded, but which dog was assigned as well,” remembers Rutherford. “And I never had to leave the Command Center.”

Behind the scenes. Horn says that one reason she chose this tool was that it fit in with what the Sheriff’s Office was already doing from a communications standpoint. “We had already implemented SharePoint Portal Server and had an external SharePoint site up and running for another statewide project.”

Moreover, she notes, “Our law enforcement officers already use laptops in their cruisers, which are equipped with wireless modems, to communicate with dispatch,” she says. In addition, E-Sponder uses familiar Microsoft Office software, so users didn’t require training, and Horn says that she found it could be quickly customized as well.

By January 2005, Convergence Communications was configuring the system to meet NIMS standards and to accommodate the special needs of the Super Bowl’s designated lead security agency. “We deployed the E-Sponder system external to our firewall, but installed another firewall in front of it so that the solution was exposed to the Internet, but only for those agencies with credentialed access to the system,” says Horn.

“Behind that firewall, we had three Microsoft Windows Server 2003 servers running Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003, Live Communications Server for instant messaging, and Active Directory services that communicated with the two other servers on user account information. It was up and running in a couple of weeks.”

Online registration using a customized process was quick and easy, and by the time the Sheriff’s Office had finished ratifying applicants’ credentials, the number of authenticated participants on the system reached 650.

Sharing IAPs. According to Lieutenant Russell, the Microsoft Office-based technology made it easy to incorporate the solution into the planning process, saving staff time in getting the paperwork done.

“Convergence created an electronic form using Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003 that replicates the IAP forms our officers are used to filling out. Only now they entered the information directly into the system, and all the other agencies could see what we were planning,” Russell explains.

As more and more IAP plans were entered from participating agencies, the system built up a complete timeline of planned events that provided a global view to the planning process.

Sharing and comparing security plans prior to the event helped to pinpoint potential conflicts early on. For example, the NFL Experience is an interactive exhibit of NFL-style games and attractions. The IAP for this event called for road closures on the South Bank of the St. John’s River, and the IAP for an event held at the River City Brewery called for another road closure that would have effectively blocked both exits from route I-95.

This traffic headache was averted when both sides were able to see the effect their actions would have, and one exit was kept open (a critical conflict to avoid, because the teams used one of the I-95 exits to get to practice facilities).

By game time, more than 6,000 planned events, from street closings to the times that players were shuttled back and forth to the stadium, were logged into the system. The centralized listing of all the plans meant that everyone involved would know exactly what they and everyone else had to do to ensure a safe experience for everybody at Super Bowl XXXIX.

Lessons Learned

Planners of any similar future events can learn a few important lessons from Jacksonville’s Super Bowl experience.

Start early. Even though planning for this event began well before kickoff, the sheer number of agencies and personnel involved made coordination a challenge. Future events need to consider safety and security months—even years—before they begin to ensure that the proper ICS is in place and that all personnel understand the command chain.

Getting a very early start also ensures that any technology used for personnel to communicate and share information is properly tested and understood by all. In the case of the Super Bowl, the technology worked without a hitch; but having extra time to test and have everyone accustomed to it would ensure that unexpected problems do not arise at the last minute.

Leverage technology. Not every special event is the same scale as the Super Bowl, yet with heightened fears that high-profile events will be terrorist targets, ever-increasing numbers of security and safety personnel will be involved in protecting visitors and spectators. That means that technology will become increasingly useful as a tool to manage the many players involved in these events.

Russell says that his experience managing security at previous events was dramatically different from being involved with protecting the Super Bowl because he had not had the same level of situational awareness via the Web-based communications. He compares that level to the difference between listening to a radio drama and imagining the scenes versus watching a live TV broadcast that also runs a crawl showing all relevant background information.

“What’s exciting to me as a veteran law enforcement officer is to see the police, fire, and emergency medical services, as well as the public safety community, beginning to embrace technology as a way to make the public safer,” Russell says. “It’s gratifying to see the law enforcement community following leaders in the business community and emulating their use of technology.”

Distribute the tools. Technology for safety and security personnel is only useful when it’s in the hands of the people who are on the front lines. In the case of Super Bowl XXXIX, approximately 100 officers could access E-Sponder wirelessly via laptops in their police cruisers, but more than a thousand could not.

Access to the technology by beat-level officers allowed them to provide valuable input while keeping abreast of any developments that affected their roles. In future events, all officers will likely be equipped with some level of connectivity, whether via PDA or laptop, thus providing more intelligence to the security effort.

A clear organizational structure and technological tools made the process of communicating easier, and the Super Bowl week went off with nary a fumble. The success of the security effort meant that off the field, at least, the event was a win-win situation for all involved.

Robert Wolf is president and cofounder of Convergence Communications.