The Super Bowl is one of the most high-profile events of the year, drawing over a million tourists to the host city and averaging almost 100 million television viewers. Though the host city’s local economy benefits greatly from the surge in economic activity, the rapid influx of people can put a strain on a city’s security infrastructure. Many activities are involved in keeping the game and all of the peripheral events safe and secure.

What is the security risk of the Super Bowl?

Security at the Super Bowl involves an extremely complex planning process that begins at least two years in advance.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) classifies the Super Bowl as a Special Event Assessment Rating (SEAR) Level 1, the highest classification level of public safety risk. A Level 1 event is an event with national and/or international significance requiring “extensive federal interagency support” and intensive planning and preparation.

When Minneapolis, Minnesota, hosted the Super Bowl in February 2018, our city established over 40 separate public safety planning groups who met regularly to develop all of the public safety plans. Although the Super Bowl is a SEAR Level 1 national security event, and the federal government helps support operations, the overall planning and command and control are the responsibility of the host city – in this case, Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Police Department. Each of the 40 planning groups met and reported up through seven distinct public safety planning branches that included:

  • Tactical Operations
  • Venue Operations
  • Intelligence Operations
  • Emergency Preparedness and Response
  • Transportation and Mobility
  • Administration and Facilities
  • Public Relations

The leaders of these seven branches then reported up to our command structure. Using this structure, we were then able to deconflict issues and make sure there were not any gaps or overlaps in duties, responsibilities and operations. Needless to say, this involved hundreds of meetings leading up to the Super Bowl.

A game plan for success

Seamless communication and mutual-aid response are critical to maintaining safe and secure operations during the Super Bowl, especially with so many different agencies on the ground. Minneapolis trusted CentralSquare CAD to coordinate dispatch with first responders in and around the stadium in the event of an emergency. CAD workstations and mobile centers were placed and utilized throughout many parts of the city.

The Multi Agency Command Center (MACC) was the primary command center set up to streamline communications while the All Hazards Center managed potential hazmat incidents such as suspicious packages, bomb threats and more.  The U.S. Bank Stadium has three permanent CAD workstations in the Strategic Operations Center (SOC) within the stadium. This was part of the original build of the stadium, as it is manned during football games and other large events. 

In preparation for the Super Bowl, Minneapolis made sure that its communication systems were ready to not only interact efficiently with the other agencies but also handle the expected surge in emergency calls as well. Minneapolis is the primary PSAP for the city and takes all incoming 9-1-1 calls within the city.  Even though the Super Bowl consumed many resources and headlines, everyday business still required attention. 

Working overtime behind the scenes

Many people think of the Super Bowl as a one-day event, but it is so much more. It is a full ten days of events spread throughout the entire metro area. As such, our full public safety operation was in effect for these ten days leading up to Super Bowl Sunday. Although people see many visible, uniformed police officers, most don’t realize so much more security and safety measures go on behind the scenes to keep everyone safe. In our Super Bowl, we had over 3,000 police officers, federal agents and national guard soldiers working 24 hours a day for a full ten days to maintain safety around the city and the many venues involved. It’s an absolutely massive security operation that still often amazes me today.

Technology is continually enhancing security at the Super Bowl and will do so for years to come. It will never eliminate the need for boots on the ground, but it can help prevent a criminal event or provide early detection of a problem, enabling first responders to address it before it ever rises to an emergency situation. Many moving parts are in play during an event this large. It’s important to keep tabs on locations of all of the public safety resources in the event of an emergency. Technology can be tremendously helpful in managing this, as it did for us.

Game time

All eyes will be on Miami Gardens, Florida, for this year’s Super Bowl. Excited fans will descend upon the city to cheer on their team and millions will tune into their televisions at home to join in the festivities. And behind the scenes, hundreds of public safety personnel will be working overtime to make sure the most memorable moment of this year’s game has only to do with football.   

About the author : Commander Scott Gerlicher is the Commander of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Special Operation and Intelligence Division. He served as the public safety coordinator for Super Bowl LII.