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Maximum Blitz: Super Bowl Security

Super Bowl XXXVII went off without a hitch thanks to public safety agencies equipped with the latest wireless tools.

April 01, 2003  |  by Dave Douglas

Working Without Wires

Officers at the command center in downtown San Diego watched live video feed from cameras placed around the stadium and in nearby areas.

One of the greatest benefits of the involvement of private sector companies and non-law enforcement government agencies in the security for the Super Bowl was the San Diego PD's full unfettered access to an array of wireless communications systems, sensors, surveillance cameras, and other monitoring and display systems.

The communications system was built in layers that could operate independently if necessary. For example, an additional backup operation center (OC) was established within the Operation Shadow Bowl Command Center, and a second backup operation center was set up at the Infra Lynx Command Center. In the event of a catastrophic failure of the primary OC, the backup centers were ready to go. If such a catastrophe occurred, the surviving staff would relocate at one or both of the backup sites. Additional staff was also tasked to respond to the OCs as needed.

In addition, the Department Operations Center (DOC) and the Downtown Event Command Post (DTCP) were linked via RoseTel Video Conferencing systems. Also, all of the video surveillance systems were linked between the OC sites to give the decision makers real-time video of what was happening in the field.

This communications web was critical when crowds exceeding 125,000 flooded into San Diego's downtown Gaslamp district. Using the system, incident commanders were able to send resources where they were needed in a timely manner.

Some Things Borrowed

Many companies donated their products and services to enhance communications and surveillance at the event.

A number of private and non-law enforcement concerns provided communication and surveillance tools to help maintain the security for the Super Bowl.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Omnimedia Technologies supplied a stand-alone, streetlamp-mounted video camera that covered the main downtown venue. The system uses wireless cellular phone technology to transmit streaming video images. Images were sent to Omnimedia's secure video server and then uploaded to a secure Website that was used to monitor crowd size and behavior.

The University of California at San Diego brought in another video surveillance system for use in the downtown command post. These cameras were mounted on a light pole in the Gaslamp area and on the roof of the command post itself. The Gaslamp camera ran to the command post through a direct wireless link that was set up by Sky River Wireless Broadband Communications of San Diego.

Images from the cameras were transmitted to UCSD's equipment and software that measured crowd size in certain geographical areas. The computer would advise the incident commander when the crowd exceeded the limit for the area and it kept a running account of crowd size on an hour-by-hour basis. The system on the roof of the command post was used to count the number of vehicles entering and exiting the secure parking area and alert officers to intruders as they approached the building.

Another San Diego company, VivaMicro Wireless Vision, stepped up with equipment that streamed pictures from a large beach area venue across a wireless Internet connection. Crowds estimated at above 15,000 were easily watched and managed by the incident commander using a laptop computer.

Pacific Microwave Research of Vista, Calif., provided what turned out to be an invaluable tool for the decision makers in the field, at the Department Operations Center and in the Incident Command Post. The company's Tactical Video Receiver (TVR) is a handheld unit that displays video imagery transmitted by aerial assets or frontline surveillance platforms. To make best use of the system, two San Diego PD helicopters were outfitted with video microwave downlinks. The onboard cameras, both normal color and forward-looking infrared, were linked into the microwave downlink transmitter.

Pacific Microwave equipped officers in the DOC and the Incident Command Post with handheld receivers and one roof-mounted receiver system. The handheld systems were fielded by the on-the-ground field incident commanders. And they worked great.

On Saturday prior to the game, crowds flocked to the beach area venue for a concert and a helicopter was called in to provide overhead observation. With the helicopter overhead, the field commanders were able to see their areas of responsibility from the air. As one of the helicopters circled the event, the observer switched to infrared. In the "white hot" mode, the ground commander saw a large, dark hole develop in the middle of the crowd of 15,000-plus young people dancing in front of the stage. This was the development of a mosh pit, which was expressly prohibited as part of the venue's license. Because of information supplied by the Pacific Microwave equipment, the commander was able to contact the onsite promoters and stop the activity. This was easily accomplished via the telephone without the need to risk officer safety by placing them in the crowd to observe the behavior or take what would be an unpopular action in a crowd of 15,000 kids.

The roof-based Pacific Microwave system was used in the downtown Gaslamp district and offered the incident commander with video of crowd size and movement that he could communicate to the ground troops. As the crowds moved around the downtown area, they were met with officers at key points. This allowed the commanders to use fewer officers in a mobile posture rather than fixed posts where they were not needed.

Communications Backbone

Infra Lynx, a Virginia-based company with offices in San Diego, provided satellite communications, tactical cellular sites, and wireless broadband Internet access at all the out-lying command posts. This equipment was the backbone for all the other systems throughout the event.

Previously, Infra Lynx's Tac Cell system was used in New York City in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks to search for victims by electronically locating cell phones within the rubble. Although none were found alive, the effort did help locate remains.

The mission of security plans like the ones employed at Super Bowl XXXVII is to ensure that such technology is never needed again to find the remains of victims of a terrorist attack. And as law enforcement professionals, we need to remember that the "private sector" of business is made up of people in our community and they all have a stake in maintaining public security and safety.

As such, many of these companies are willing to lend a hand when we really need them. Their efforts during Superbowl XXXVII made San Diego and the thousands of football fans who flocked to the city safer. They donated the use of literally millions of dollars worth of equipment.

Super Bowl XXXVII was a perfect example of the best aspects of community-oriented policing. The community supplied additional communications equipment, medical support, situation awareness, and mental horsepower not normally at the disposal of the public safety agencies, and that was a huge assist that may have even saved the day had an actual incident developed.

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