A U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flies over Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Jan. 30, 2019. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection Photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Super Bowl Security Hinges on ‘Planning, Preparation, and Partnerships’

Twenty-five entities within the Department of Homeland Security have contributed nearly 600 personnel to beef up security for Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta this weekend.

Precautions include enforcement of no-fly zone for 30 miles around the stadium on game day, radiological and explosive screening of incoming trucks delivering all the kickoff necessities, and making sure rapid response teams are ready to rappel into the stadium or other venues within the city at a moment’s notice.

Joe Coomer, vice president of security for AMB Sports and Entertainment and former director of security for Mercedes-Benz Stadium, told the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense in August that “short of large-scale natural disasters, a biological event is one of the great unknowns for a lot of venues and our stadiums that we don’t necessarily face on a daily basis.” Drones were specifically discussed as a vehicle for dispersing bioweapons and were singled out as a top worry for operators of venues hosting large gatherings

“Thousands of football fans from around the country will travel to watch the New England Patriots face-off against the L.A. Rams in Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta. At DHS, we are proud to support the City of Atlanta in their planning and preparations for Super Bowl 53,” said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who met Wednesday with the security team and NFL official in Atlanta, without talking about any specific threats or areas of concern. “Protecting an event of this magnitude is no small task.”

DHS said it’s contributing to the multi-agency effort with state and local partners by “providing intelligence, conducting physical and cyber assessments at Super Bowl-related venues, providing capacity such as canine teams and air assets, and making sure that everyone is prepared if an incident happens through planning and exercising.”

Brian Harrell, who leads the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Infrastructure Security Division, said that “the moment Super Bowl LIII planning begun last year, DHS engaged the NFL and the Mercedes-Benz Stadium group to provide physical and cybersecurity assessments, along with tabletop exercises and technology support.”

“Despite the recent government funding hiatus, we have always maintained our commitment to furthering our public-private partnership and providing federal resources and expertise during this highly visible, special security event,” he said.

Harrell, who previously oversaw corporate security, infrastructure protection, and emergency management at Duke Energy Corporation, added that “an event like this is about planning, preparation, and partnerships.”

“Security is a shared responsibility and each citizen has a role to play in identifying and reporting suspicious activities and threats,” he said. “Our partnership with the NFL and local law enforcement to continue the ‘See Something, Say Something’ campaign is a critical part of our efforts to ensure the safety of every player, employee and fan in the area for the game. I am confident we will have a safe and successful event.”

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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