Major events like the Super Bowl pose an extraordinary challenge for law enforcement agencies, and there is no shame in admitting that sometimes we are simply overwhelmed with the scope and the complexity of these large events. When America's greatest sports spectacle comes to town, local agencies must wrestle with some serious concerns, including overall security, traffic control, parking, and crowd management. To cope with these headaches, planning must start months, if not years, in advance of "Game Day."
San Diego played host to this year's Super Bowl. And the police department of "America's Finest City" started "working the problem" more than a year in advance right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Post-9/11 America is a tense place to plan for huge gatherings of football fans in crowded urban areas. In that climate the Super Bowl is not just a world-class sports event, it's a rich target for a fanatic.
Consequently, in their planning of security for the big event, the San Diego PD had to deal with an elevated terrorism threat; a possible war with Iraq; the proximity of an international border; and an operational area that included a dense urban downtown district, a deep valley river estuary, an extensive commercial waterfront, and an international airport. To top it all off, California's massive budget woes have walloped local police budgets.
These Infra Lynx vehicles provided a secure tactical cellular network and satellite up and down links for voice and broadband data during the game.
As planning for the security of Super Bowl XXXVII progressed, the threat of terrorists using Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) created an environment in which public safety and law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, and local levels were forced to evaluate incident management plans and identify new approaches. Agency planners recognized that no single organization or discipline was capable of dealing with the consequences of a WMD attack on its own. New strategies emerged that employed a unified command structure to approach a potentially catastrophic incident.
A unified command system provides direction and control to field forces. The teams are made up of law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services, explosive ordnance disposal, and hazmat personnel. These multi-disciplined response units are the anchor of the system.
In this system, field unit commanders, administrators, and emergency managers had to expand their understanding of local allied agencies' special capabilities, jargons, protocols, and procedures. Additionally, the methods individual agencies use for information exchange became a major concern. It was as if the decision makers had to learn three or four new languages. Fortunately, exercises and drills helped the responders find methods of coordination to further facilitate the integration of field unit capabilities.
As the big day approached, the unified response team concept became more accepted and familiar to all of the planners. But one critically important element was overlooked. It was a resource that all law enforcement officers are familiar with and use daily in our work, the community.
Other government and public safety agencies have not been practicing community-oriented or neighborhood-based strategies as we, in law enforcement, have for years. Consequently, because of their lack of familiarity with community resources, the planners did not integrate the extensive resources available within the private sector of our community. That changed quickly once the planners realized how much the public and private sector companies could bring to the table.
In the case of Super Bowl XXXVII, the resources of the community and businesses were considerable and essential to maintaining security. It's important to note here that the "community" in this case is not just San Diego. For a national event the size and scope of the Super Bowl, the community expands to encompass the entire nation.
San Diego security and safety planners were able to establish informal partnerships with a number of local, state, and federal private sector organizations. These included academia, industry, and non-law enforcement federal government agencies.
The Shadow Bowl
An Operation Shadow Bowl volunteer wears a fully self-contained protective suit to perform maintenance on one of the hidden bio-chem sensors placed around Qualcomm Stadium.
Federal support for San Diego was provided through a series of exercises called "Operation Gaslamp" and through the deployment of a suite of communications equipment called Infra Lynx.
The majority of private sector support was provided as part of "Operation Shadow Bowl," a large-scale demonstration of community readiness and medical response to a mass-casualty event. Operation Shadow Bowl offered a great opportunity to build field experience, to develop new biomedical technologies and, especially interesting to law enforcement, to test communication systems that enhanced the ability to collaborate and effectively respond to emerging disasters. It proved to be an extremely valuable exercise for decision makers, first responders, and hospital-based emergency medical teams.