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Illustration by Security Management

Security Measures Ramp Up for Super Bowl Weekend

Thousands of people from all over the world are headed to Miami this weekend for Super Bowl LIV to watch the Kansas City Chiefs battle the San Francisco 49ers on the field. Off the field, however, a vast security system will be in place to ensure the players, fans, and local community remain safe on game day.

The Super Bowl has a Special Event Assessment Rating (SEAR) of 1 – meaning it has national and international importance that requires “extensive federal interagency support,” according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The National Football League (NFL) has its own security, and so do the teams and stadiums where games are played. But for SEAR 1 events, the U.S. federal government and state and local officials may provide additional support in the form of explosive detection canine teams, cyber risk assessments, venue screening and field intelligence teams, and air security and tactical operations support.

The secretary of homeland security also appoints a Federal Coordination Team for SEAR 1 events.

“The Federal Coordination Team, consisting of the secretary’s personal representatives for the event, liaises and consults with state and local authorities on their event security and response plans; ensures appropriate and coordinated federal support in response to federal-to-federal, state, and local requests for assistance; and maintains situational awareness of the event throughout the planning and execution phases,” according to DHS.

James Hayes, vice president of sports and entertainment for Guidepost Solutions, was on the Federal Coordination Team for the 2014 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, due to his then role as the DHS special agent in charge at the New York Field Office.

Having this team is “great for the NFL because it brings under one umbrella one coordinator responsible for the event,” Hayes explains. “That’s a big force multiplier—a big lift and assistance for the NFL and the host city because they have their own daily responsibilities in addition to the Super Bowl.”

This level of coordination will be particularly helpful for Miami, he adds, because of its proximity to the ocean. The U.S. Coast Guard has set up a security zone along Biscayne Bay. Coast Guard agents are also conducting searches at the Port of Miami to intercept drugs and contraband, like counterfeit Super Bowl souvenirs.

“First off, we’re surrounded by water,” said Todd Gayle, an air and marine team agent with Customs and Border Patrol, in an interview with CBS News. “It’s really important that we have our maritime assets out of water actively patrolling, looking for any threats that might come to the Super Bowl.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has also put flight restrictions in place—including no fly zones for drones.

“Obviously, the drone concern is one of the newer concerns and shows how technology makes security evolve,” Hayes says. “Last year at the Super Bowl in Atlanta, they confiscated six drones throughout the week that were getting into the area around the stadium. They weren’t doing anything nefarious—people were curious and wanted to take some photos and videos—but they can create a chaotic atmosphere.”

There’s also the risk of malicious actors using drones to conduct airborne surveillance to see what the security on the ground looks like in advance of an attack. Because of this—and last year’s confiscations—Hayes says the NFL and homeland security have been active and aggressive about getting the word out that the area around the stadium is a no drone zone.

The NFL has also been on high alert for cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns ahead of Sunday’s game. On Monday, the league issued a statement after becoming aware of a breach of league-related social media accounts.

“Targeted breaches and additional failed attempts were discovered across the league and team accounts,” the NFL confirmed in a press release. “The NFL took immediate action and directed the teams to secure their social media accounts and prevent further unauthorized access. Simultaneously, the league alerted the social media platform providers and, with their assistance, secured all league and club accounts.”

The White Hat hacking group OurMine later confirmed that it breached the NFL social media accounts, including the Twitter account of the Chicago Bears, the Chiefs, and the Green Bay Packers, to “show people that everything is hackable,” NBC News reports.

Ensuring that social media accounts are secure is a priority leading up to a major event because if compromised, they could be used to share inaccurate information that could cause panic, Hayes adds.

Most importantly, for fans and those headed to game day activities in Miami, Hayes recommends they check the NFL and Hard Rock Stadium websites to find out what the security restrictions in place are.

“The last thing you want to do is get to the stadium and get turned away,” he says. “There lockers where you can store some equipment—but not everything.”

Hayes also suggests giving yourself extra time to get to and from the stadium while moving through zones of increased security, such as bag restrictions and magnetometers.

“The security apparatus has come a long way and become a lot more efficient—where the NFL and private security partners can really move people in and out of an area efficiently,” Hayes adds. “But people will want to give themselves plenty of time to get in and out safely.”