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Illustration by Security Management 

The Super Bowl Security Team is Ready for Some Football and a Sunday Night Party

As truck convoys shut down another highway in Canada, Ukraine warns of Russian military exercises raising tensions in eastern Europe, and the Winter Olympics continue in Beijing, the United States is preparing for its largest sporting event of the year: Super Bowl Sunday.

The Los Angeles Rams will take on the Cincinnati Bengals in this weekend’s American football final. National Football League (NFL) officials expect a “full house” at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, which seats approximately 70,000 people. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, attendees will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test to enter the event area; they will also be required to wear masks when not eating or drinking. 

In a press conference on Tuesday, NFL Chief Security Officer Cathy Lanier said there were no “specific, credible threats towards the event.” She added, however, that fans can expect to see an “increase in security presence and there will be a multitude of different agencies…assisting us from the federal, state, and local government and the region.” 

Super Bowl LVI is designated as a Special Event Assessment Rating (SEAR) Level 1 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), meaning the event is significant, with international and national importance, and requires extensive federal support to secure.

“The Department of Homeland Security is fundamentally a department of partnerships, and those partnerships are critical to ensuring the safety and security of Super Bowl operations as well as that of the surrounding community,” said DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas in a statement. “Our dedicated DHS workforce is working collaboratively alongside our federal, state, and local partners to provide operational and technical support to the NFL, City of Inglewood, and State of California to keep this national event safe. Just like the game itself, vigilance is a team effort, so please remember: if you see something, say something.” 

Mayorkas traveled to California this week to observe some of the security measures in place to protect the event and to meet with stakeholders. The U.S. federal government is providing assistance for securing the Super Bowl in a variety of ways, including Coast Guard explosive detection canine teams and maritime security assets, Customs and Border Protection providing aviation security and video surveillance, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency assisting with protecting communications and critical infrastructure in Los Angeles, Immigration and Customs Enforcement providing a task force to identify and combat human trafficking, and more.

“On Super Bowl Sunday, game attendees and the general public in Los Angeles can report suspicious activity by calling or texting this tip line: (562) 662-2344,” DHS said in a press release. “Suspicious activity and threats of violence, including online threats, can also be reported to local law enforcement, FBI Field Offices, or a local Fusion Center.”

Just like the practice the athletes themselves put in to prepare for game day, preparation for the security team begins far in advance of the championship game, says James Hayes, vice president of sports and entertainment at Guidepost Solutions. In his role at Guidepost, he works with clients across the sports and entertainment spectrum on securing new stadiums—as well as ongoing security through penetration testing, red teaming, and identifying new technology solutions. Hayes previously led DHS’s efforts to work with sports leagues in the New York area—including at MetLife stadium for the Super Bowl in February 2014.

“One of the things that’s unique about the last four and five years is the amount of state and local support for these events—it’s not just the Rams or SoFi Stadium security teams,” Hayes says. “They have their corporate responsibilities, but the feds also work with state and local government to create a security plan and protect the fans and vendors, all throughout the week for the Super Bowl.”

Those measures may include previous tabletop training sessions to simulate incidents that might happen and the necessary response—such as to a fire or a vehicle-ramming attack—and setting up social media monitoring. Then there will be the basic concerns associated with any large event: people attempting to enter without tickets or with weapons.

“There are different concerns about terrorism, which have been a lower concern for stadiums for the most part,” Hayes says, adding that most of the focus is on how to keep vehicles away from the venue and prevent them from being used as weapons for attacks. “You also have to focus on airborne threats; drones were a big focus of the last Super Bowl.”

The biggest threat, however, might be in the form of protests—individuals using the mass appeal of the Super Bowl and its subsequent media coverage to stage protests about coronavirus measures, supply chain issues, and domestic issues. Security teams will need to balance allowing people to exercise their right to protest, while also maintaining security around the event, Hayes says.

As far as he is aware, Hayes says there have not been any major issues with getting attendees to comply with health and safety or security measures at sporting events—such as mask mandates or vaccine requirements. Stadium security has also improved to the point that if a fan or stadium employee notices something odd or disturbing, there are options to text the security team directly to report that behavior—right down to the section and row.

“One of the other things about the Super Bowl is, given how it’s grown in popularity and the prices to get into the Super Bowl, you’re usually dealing with a crowd that is not going to be the type of crowd where you have an elevated concern of unruly, aggressive, bordering on criminal behavior,” he adds.

For attendees of Sunday’s Super Bowl, Hayes recommends checking out the NFL’s dedicated Web page on security measures at the game—including text security alerts. The Los Angeles Super Bowl Host Committee also has resources for attendees and recommendations on transportation to and from the game.