Integrated Security Services, Inc., New York

The Story Behind Super Bowl And Other Large Event Security

07 Feb

Levi Stadium for Super BowlDid you ever wonder what it take to secure the Super Bowl? Threats are everywhere in our modern world, which requires security and law enforcement professionals to build complex site-specific security programs that mitigate the risks posed by the wide range of threats while not compromising the celebration of the event. For the general public there is the visible security apparatus at train stations, airports, public transportation hubs and streets of the host city. The increase in every day security is routine, but large events that have national or international significance, like this weekend’s Super Bowl, require even more complex and wide-spread security operations, technology and planning. The process can take years and involve dozens of agencies at both the federal to local level.

Pre-Event Planning

The first step in setting up the security apparatus for a large event is the pre-event planning. This planning typically beings between 12 to 18 months before the start of the event. For government related events like presidential inaugurations this pre-event planning may begin two to three years prior to the event.

Most major event planning begins with the creation of an executive team headed by the overall event security director who represents the lead law enforcement agency. This team typically involves top command level personnel from all partners in securing the event. For the Super Bowl, this includes top level representatives from state and local law enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security, the NFL, and others key security partners. Key parts of the planning process would include:

1. Identifying all functional areas that need to be planned, create subcommittees to handle those
areas, and issue timelines for who will plan what by when. For an event like the Super Bowl, this would include planning for security at the stadium, nearby public transportation hubs, and airports.

2. Review subcommittee operational plans to ensure that they are comprehensive, consistent, and realistic, and that contingency plans are in place for each major function.

3. Determine any changes needed in routine policies, practices, or laws.

4. Ensure that appropriate federal law enforcement officials, such as Department of Homeland Security, are informed in advance about events with national or international significance to guarantee federal awareness and possible support.

Risk Assessments

Risk assessments are another critical component in planning, developing, and deploying the complex security apparatus surrounding a major event. The FBI, DHS, and International Association of Assembly Managers are among the organizations that offer criteria for classifying special events according to threat levels and corresponding security levels.

The FBI uses eight factors to arrive at four Special Event Readiness Levels (SERLs). The SERLs relate to anticipated levels of FBI support, but the eight factors are relevant to local law enforcement: size of event; threat (including known threats to the specific event); historical, political, or symbolic significance; duration; location; cultural, political, and religious backgrounds of attendees; media coverage; and dignitaries attending.

Guidelines and formulas for conducting threat and risk assessments are available from the
DHS and take into account the intention and capability of an adversary, as well as vulnerabilities (e.g., building characteristics and security practices). The U.S. Secret Service has also developed threat assessment tools, primarily regarding protection of targets. Key assessment areas include:

  • Identifying potential threats, including common crimes (robbery, assault, etc.), fires, vandalism, natural disasters, protests, terrorism, or gangs
  • Gauging potential damages from such threats (impact analysis)
  • Determining the likelihood that the problems will occur
  • Developing cost estimates and actions to prevent the threats

In addition to the key assessments, threats and risks are generally broken down into five separate categories which are:

  • Harm to persons
  • Damage to property
  • Loss of revenue for the event and jurisdiction if incidents prevent people
    from attending or cause increased expenses

  • Increased liability due to negligence
  • Loss of reputation (tourists may not come to the jurisdiction or event again because of problems)

Event Security Deployment

After all the planning, organizing, and testing of the security that will be put in place, the security apparatus has to be setup and running when the event happens. In the case of the Super Bowl, thousands of individuals will be actively involved in the security for the event. In fact, in a recent Department of Homeland Security press release, the department outlined just some of the assets that will be in place for the Super Bowl. These include:


More than 100 additional TSA officers and specialists will assist with security at the three major international airports in the San Francisco Bay Area. The TSA will also deploy canine teams, behavior detection and analysis offices, and explosives teams. Visible Intermodal Prevent and Response teams, also known as VIPR teams, which include air marshals, behavioral detection officers, explosive detection units, and security inspectors will be working to secure mass transit hubs.

Secret Service

The Secret Service will be providing social media monitoring, cyber security vulnerability assessment and mitigation, as well as training for other security personnel.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency will providing Mobile Emergency Response Support(MERS) units. These units provide mobile telecommunications capabilities, power generation, life support, and operational support. In the event of an emergency, these could be activated to aid in response and coordination of local and state security personnel with federal agencies.

U.S. Coast Guard

The Coast Guard will increase patrol operations, deploy the Pacific Strike Team, and boost ferry security and cruise ship security operations.

DHS Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO)

The DNDO will be deploying Mobile Detection Deployment Units (MDDUs) which offer radiological and nuclear detection which are meant to supplement existing, local detection assets. The MDDUs include both fixed and mobile radiological and nuclear detection assets.

DHS Office of Health Affairs (OHA)

The OHA has deployed a network of BioWatch detectors that monitor for and give warning of the release of a biological agent. They’re also providing state and local authorities as well as public health institutions with training and information on potential threats and how to recognize them.

DHS National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD)

The NPPD will be providing contributing a wide range of support services including a large array of cyber security systems and personnel; emergency communications equipment and support; bombing prevention training for local law enforcement including counter-IED capabilities in addition to 12 Protective Security advisers supporting the event; and Active Shooter Preparedness training which was provided to 170 different public and private sector partners.

The End Result

In most cases, the result of all this planning, preparation, effort, and money is: nothing. Nothing happens and the event plays out as it was intended. So when you’re getting your $3,000 ticket scanned and taking a seat in Levi’s Stadium to watch Super Bowl 50, you can breathe easy knowing that thousands of people across dozens of local, state, and federal agencies have spent tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of man hours ensuring everyone can watch the Panthers clobber the Broncos without any interruption.