More than 1 million people are expected to travel to Atlanta, Georgia, this weekend for Super Bowl 53 when the New England Patriots face off against the Los Angeles Rams.
And while the athletes have been preparing on the field for this moment, security professionals have been hard at work off the field to ensure that the Super Bowl is safe for attendees.
These preparations began roughly two years ago and include local and federal officials because the Super Bowl is designated as a National Special Security Event—like a State of the Union address. Events receive this designation because of their anticipated attendance, the size of the overall event, and their significance.
To stand this security effort up, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created an Atlanta-based Federal Coordination Team to partner with the National Football League (NFL), local law enforcement, and federal officials.
“Our primary job is to support and enable our partners in state and local law enforcement and the private sector as they protect the Super Bowl,” DHS said in a press release. “We help 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.”
To oversee these efforts, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen traveled to Atlanta this past week to conduct walk throughs of Mercedes-Benz stadium (where the game will be played) and meet with local partners.
“At DHS, we are proud to support the City of Atlanta in their planning and preparations for Super Bowl 53,” said Nielsen in a statement. “Protecting an event of this magnitude is no small task. Twenty-five DHS entities with nearly 600 personnel are working hand-in-hand with the NFL and local law enforcement to ensure this weekend remains safe and secure.”
Alongside Secretary Nielsen in Atlanta was Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Assistant Director for Infrastructure Security Brian Harrell. He was there representing CISA, which was stood up in November 2018 to lead the national effort to defend critical infrastructure against threats while partnering with all levels of government and the private sector.
“DHS engaged the NFL and the Mercedes-Benz Stadium group to provide physical and cybersecurity assessments, along with tabletop exercises and technology support,” explains Harrell, who is also an ASIS International member. “Despite the recent government funding hiatus, we have also maintained our commitment to furthering our public-private partnership and providing federal resources and expertise during this highly visible, special security event.”
While NFL Chief Security Officer Cathy Lanier said there is no credible threat to Super Bowl 53, security officials and law enforcement are prepared to act should that change—including 600 DHS employees on the ground in Atlanta and an elevated Atlanta Police Department presence.
In an interview with Yahoo! Sports, Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields said city police officers will be working 12-hour shifts over the weekend and will maintain a visible presence.
“For local police, the greatest concerns in recent days have been the weather and traffic, and weather conditions are expected to improve in the days before the Super Bowl,” according to Yahoo!
Security officials are also depending on fans and citizens to report suspicious activity they witness leading up to and during the Super Bowl by calling 911 or reporting it via the See Something Send Something and Atlanta 311 apps.
“Security is a shared responsibility and each citizen has a role to play in identifying and reporting suspicious activities and threats,” Harrell says. “Our partnership with the NFL and local law enforcement to continue the ‘See Something, Say Something’ campaign to Super Bowl 53 is a critical part of our efforts to ensure the safety of every player, employee, and fan in the area for the game.”