Little is new about the security plans for Sunday’s Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego. Police and federal security planners liberally borrowed from the successful plan from last year’s big game in New Orleans, right down to the secured perimeter and no-fly zone around and above Qualcomm Stadium.
But when it comes to securing the world’s most popular one-day sporting event, there is no ego involved and originality is not required.
“We have copied many of the aspects of last year’s Super Bowl security,” said Bill Maheu, assistant chief of the San Diego Police Department. “New Orleans worked very well, and though we have obviously had Super Bowls here before, there are a lot of things we all have learned and will implement here.”
Sunday’s security efforts, costing more than $2million, also will include ubiquitous metal detectors and bag searches, a 4,000-person team of law enforcement officers and private security staff, surveillance cameras and civilian SWAT teams. Even cellular phones and pagers will be screened repeatedly.
The hefty show of force, of course, is standard operating procedure for any major public event since the terrorist attacks of September11. Heightening the tension are San Diego’s proximity to the heavily traveled U.S.-Mexico border and the city’s significant military presence. But perhaps the biggest challenge for law enforcement officials will be doing their job while allowing the festive nature of the Super Bowl to continue.
Already, that festivity has taken several hits. The fenced-off parking lot at Qualcomm Stadium will be closed to all individual cars, and no tailgating of any kind will be allowed. Also, the long list of banned items at the stadium include the axes, skulls and horns that are part of the heavy metal-themed costumes popular with Oakland Raiders fans.
All public parking within two miles of the stadium has been eliminated, and fans with tickets are being encouraged to arrive at the stadium either by shuttle bus, limousine, taxi or San Diego’s trolley system. Stadium gates are opening more than four hours before kickoff to accommodate the expected long lines and delays.
“This is not something limited to just the Super Bowl,” said Brian Roehrkasse, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “The obvious trend has been toward more limitations on things like coolers and sharp objects.”
Said Maheu: “It’s going to be very hard to please everybody. There are going to be some delays getting around. But much like New Orleans, we will be as transparent as possible. Much of what we will do is behind the scenes.”
Two significant differences exist between the San Diego Super Bowl security and last year’s historic effort in New Orleans. Last year’s Super Bowl was classified a National Special Security Event, a designation rare for sporting events and one that put the U.S. Secret Service in charge of security.
Sunday’s game, conversely, is classified as “Special Event Readiness Level Two.” The designation, created last year by the Department of Homeland Security, denotes security involvement from the Secret Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal departments, but it keeps overall control of security with local authorities.
And that change in designation has dropped the total budget for security. Last year’s detail cost an estimated $6million, while the bill for this year will cost less than half that.
“We’re doing a lot of high-tech things, a lot of involved, detailed things,” Maheu said. “But much of what we’re doing does boil down to planning, execution and simple, common sense. Like if someone comes to the game wearing a heavy jacket, that’s a big red flag. With our weather, you immediately ask why would someone possibly need that.”
Sunday’s game will be the third Super Bowl in San Diego. The others were in 1988 and 1998.