tampabay.com

Super Bowl, super security

With terrorism on their minds, local officers are in Arizona for tips on 2009.

By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer
Published February 1, 2008


GLENDALE, Ariz. - Back in January 2001, the last time Tampa hosted a Super Bowl, ticket holders got through the stadium gates after a simple bag check and ticket scan.

When the Super Bowl returns in 2009, fans will face those measures plus metal detectors and random pat downs before passing through a fence surrounding the stadium before even making it to the stadium gates.

That's one of the differences in Super Bowl security in the post-Sept. 11 world.

"It's a completely different ball game," said Tampa fire Chief Dennis Jones, who assisted with security during Tampa's 2001 Super Bowl.

Jones is among nearly 100 law enforcement and emergency management officials, including many from Tampa, spending the weekend at Super Bowl XLII in Arizona, attending security briefings, touring the stadium, NFL hotels and special events venues to gather tips on planning Super Bowl safety.

By midmorning Thursday, Jones said he had completed five hours of briefings and taken 10 pages of notes.

Tampa police Maj. John Bennett said the briefings served as reinforcement of steps already taken for such big events as Gasparilla and NFL playoff games in Tampa.

From an operations standpoint, he said, "There's nothing ...we haven't seen done," he said. "It's just magnified."

Next year, bay area law enforcement personnel will also use National Incident Management Standards - called NIMS - established by the federal government after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to help local, state and national agencies coordinate responses to terrorism or natural disasters.

Local officials already have been working toward those standards in hurricane management planning.

The Super Bowl, though, will be "our first huge test," Jones said.

'Most security facility'

In addition to basic safety, the NFL also tasks local law enforcement with police escorts for all players, team owners and VIPs, as well as with traffic management.

"They're very specific about what they want to happen," Jones said.

Tens of thousands of people working at Super Bowl events - everyone from concessionaires to souvenir hawkers - undergo extensive background checks, and on Sunday, planes can't fly within 10 miles of the stadium.

Chuck Montgomery, deputy fire chief for the Glendale Fire Department, said agencies from 24 cities as well as officials from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are assisting with security.

"Every acronym imaginable is involved," he said.

The Arizona security team set up committees to oversee everything from aviation to public information and hazardous materials.

Arizona Department of Public Safety Commander Michael Orose, the security team's liaison with the NFL, predicted that on game day the University of Phoenix Stadium would be "the most secure facility in the United States."

The ultimate goal will be to get fans into the stadium quickly without intimidating them. Cameras installed throughout the area and security personnel in civilian clothing should help achieve that, he said.

"We've got to find that fine balance between protecting the people attending the game and still making it an enjoyable experience," Orose said.

Bring back tailgating?

Some believe Super Bowl security concerns have gone over the top.

Dave Lamm of Orange, Calif., several weeks ago started an online petition at tailgatingideas.com to encourage the NFL to bring back tailgating before Super Bowl games. He's collected about 600 signatures so far.

The NFL doesn't allow tailgaters to put up tents or bring grills, citing safety concerns.

"You can drive to the stadium, you can pack a sandwich, and you can sit on the tailgate of your truck and eat it," he said. "Is a guy grilling a bratwurst on a barbecue outside the stadium before the Super Bowl that much of a security risk? Some people might think it is. I don't."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or 813 226-3401.