Full Story: Super Bowl Security – A Collective Effort

Security planning was as much the name of the game as football when Super Bowl 50 kicked off February 7 in the San Francisco Bay Area, in the city of Santa Clara, California.

An estimated 1 million people traveled to the Bay Area for more than a week of special events that required security planning for both the game and the array of concerts,

U.S.Navy, Blue Angels, flyover Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, CA for Super Bowl 50.

U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, fly in formation over the 2016 Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The Super Bowl celebrates its 50th anniversary and the Blue Angels celebrate their 70th anniversary year. U.S. Navy photos by MCI Class Andrea.

parties and other Super Bowl related activities.

As with most major public events in the United States during recent years, NPS Center for Homeland Defense and Security alumni and students were a “most valuable” team behind the stadium lights and television cameras where they worked on areas such as emergency management planning, transportation security and intelligence.

Flamm quarterbacks emergency management planning

By the time kick-off came around David Flamm was already playing overtime.

A master’s degree alumnus, Flamm is the Santa Clara County Deputy Director of Emergency Management and was the lead emergency manager assigned to the planning team. The tasks were to ensure local emergency management CONOPS were developed that coordinated efforts among the local, regional and state levels.

On game day, Flamm was the coordinator of the county’s Emergency Operations Center and liaison to the city’s EOC and SB50 Operations Center, filled with NFL officials, military, as well as local and regional representatives.

As the big day approached a chief concern was the El Nino-fueled weather that had soaked Northern California the previous month or so. His team worked with water districts and public works departments to be prepared. To add to the suspense, a King Tide occurred on game day, which could have affected transportation between San Francisco and the city of Santa Clara had a storm happened in conjunction.

“It became a non-factor on game day but everything the National Weather Service was telling us pointed to it being the El Nino of all El Ninos,” Flamm said. “There was all this doom and gloom and it was a bluebird week the whole week, which we aren’t complaining about.”

Beyond that precipitous threat were the common challenges facing emergency and security planning for large public events such as crowd control. The presence of international media and tens of thousands of people are commonly a lure for activists, and the Bay Area is reputed for its civic engagement.

“On top of that, the game happened to fall during the presidential election cycle in an area that has historically been a stop on the campaign trail.” Flamm noted.

A tremendous concern was potential “lone wolf” terrorism as the game was played just weeks after the Paris attacks. The Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) assisted in providing real-time intelligence to the various operations teams at the game site.

Flamm’s work was complemented by the NPS-CHDS alumni network, many of whom were from his own cohort, as well as the relationships cemented over 18 months of graduate study.

“NPS showed the value of relationship building, and the value of equity in diplomacy” Flamm noted. “We walked away with strong new relationships all across the region. We knew how valuable it would be to build relationships like we did in the classroom with other professionals to be successful.”

While emergency managers are often tasked with corralling outside agencies, they don’t have much authority to do so. Studying with a diverse CHDS student body became helpful especially as plans were “hot washed” after exercises and differing perspectives needed to be represented.

Karimi plans for SF Emergency Management

Bijan Karimi, Assistant Deputy Director of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, was responsible for citywide public safety planning for the events leading up to the big game. While his primary focus may have been on emergency response, transportation and public information were also a huge component of ensuring that Super Bowl week was a positive experience. Karimi coordinated the 10-month planning process which included citywide coordination meetings and four exercises.

“In my role as an emergency manager I am responsible for the collective planning but I have no authority to make any agency do anything. My whole job is about creating partnerships and focusing different groups on a common goal,” Karimi noted. “We have been planning locally and also regionally. The primary week of Super Bowl activities are taking place in SF but the game is 50 miles away in Santa Clara. For some planning purposes it is like two events, but when regional assets are needed it is considered one so pre-positioned state and federal resources can be deployed to either location.”

Karimi also used research from Chris Bellavita, CHDS Academic Programs Director, on large-scale events, threat hazard information from previous Super Bowls, and data specific to San Francisco in developing a list of 40 scenarios to test operational plans. He cited a string of relevant CHDS coursework that was beneficial to the planning: Introduction to HS, Unconventional Threats, Strategy, Intelligence for homeland security, and Framing Discourse.

“While the plans are important, it’s the process of planning and getting to know the other responders that is essential,” Karimi said. “No one agency can successfully create the secure environment needed for the game – it is the coordination and collaboration among people, resources, and agencies that make this event possible.”

Alumni connections became especially helpful, he added.

“The alumni connections within the Bay Area already establish a common connection between other responders which helps move me up the relationship curve faster.” Karimi noted. “Critical thinking developed during the master’s program is essential.”

Sanford impacts future practice

Master’s alumna Abby Sanford, Special Assistant with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, served as her agency’s representative to the safety planning committee and also provided expertise to the work credentialing committee which coordinated safety clearance for the hundreds of workers employed as ushers, food vendors and other staff at the stadium.“I had advised early to begin collecting names as soon as possible because the vetting process takes time,” Sanford said. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t’ until the end I was able to get that point across.”

Security Personnel Vests for Super Bowl 50.

Color coded vests used by security personnel to keep order and show that preparation is key during the Super Bowl 50 held in Santa Clara, CA. Photo by Heather Issvoran.

Sanford was able, however, to effect a change in future NFL policy for its vendors by persuading the League to require game vendors, beginning with Super Bowl 51, to use the federal government’s E-Verify system to determine an employee’s eligibility to work in the U.S.

“While it is not necessarily their obligation to ensure that contractors and subcontractors are authorized to work, it would certainly be a public affairs nightmare if it came out that people were working who were not authorized to work legally,” she noted.

CHDS proved helpful in that its education model brings together diverse professions enabling graduates to view issues from differing perspectives as well as helping to sharpen communication skills

“I don’t know if I would have had the courage to speak up like I did (without CHDS),” Sanford said. I had my research and all the resources with me and I spoke up during conference calls that I did not expect to speak on. I really felt I was able to communicate fed government stuff with public safety colleagues in a way that was impactful to them.”

Davies oversees EMS coordination

After three years of planning at the Santa Clara County Emergency Medical Services CHDS master’s degree graduate Josh Davies was ready.

“On game day, I was responsible for the operations of all emergency medical services operations within a Multiple Agency Coordination Center (MACC),” noted Davies, who serves as EMS Section Chief with his agency.

The planning effort involved preplanned mutual aid, development and implementation of Incident Action Plans, increased situational awareness, increased command and control presence, and increased deployment of specialized services, he added.

There was a planning advantage as during construction of Levi’s Stadium county and regional officials were already planning general emergency response scenarios.

“Once the venue was selected for SB50 it was helpful to plan not only for the opening of the new stadium but for SB50 at the same time.”

With the stadium solidly secured, another goal was planning that would address the influx of population while still promptly responding to ordinary calls for service.

“Our collective objective was to assure that every person accessing 911 received the same level of service, uncompromised by the Super Bowl activities. I believe that we accomplished that goal,” Davies said.

As with most components of the homeland security enterprise, collaboration was essential to success as the EMS system in Santa Clara County comprises county EMS, hospitals, and ambulance services. The event was a Special Event Assessment Rating (SEAR) 1, which is the highest level of alert for National Special Security Events.

“In addition to dedicated planning meetings, we worked with our partners to review and exercise existing plans on a fairly rigorous schedule starting nine months before game day,” Davies recalled. “This proved beneficial in advance of the game to confirm that systems were in working order, policies and procedures were correct, and to identify any unresolved gaps in our response planning.”

A CHDS education was helpful in that the planning process required “critical thinking, precision in communication, and envisioning the unthinkable,” as well as the opportunity to work with fellow alumni of varied professions and roles.

“Understanding the interconnections was helpful, knowing like-minded folks who share a common skill set that keeps us collectively vigilant in protecting the people we are charged with serving,” Davies said.

Jennings lends expertise from private sector

Master’s degree alumnus Elaine Jennings worked as a subject matter expert for about a year leading up to the game, but her expertise in large, special events pre-dates that.

During her years with the California Governor’s Office of Homeland Security she was a leading architect of the state’s Large Stadium Initiative (LSI) and worked on large events ranging from the Rose Bowl, Grammies and Oscars as well as venues such as the Staples Center and the Lose Angeles Coliseum.

“LSI was an innovative multi-disciplinary program, which worked with private stadium and event venues to develop security plans, event action plans and response operations for major events,” noted Jennings, who consulted as a subject matter expert with a Tetra Tech Inc. team.

For Super Bowl 50 she assisted with security planning, developing Special Events CONOPS and attending the game to evaluate the security measures in place. A major concern was a coordinated, multiple site attack upon civilian populations.

“We just saw in Paris a long-standing suspicion that terrorists are interested in targeting major sporting events,” Jennings said. “The visibility, national significance, large civilian population and economic impact to the region, all made Super Bowl 50 a target.”

Multi-agency collaboration among state and federal players was crucial as multiple local jurisdictions had responsibilities over different aspects of various events. Developing a security strategy is important, Jennings added, because it provides a roadmap for solving complex problems involving organizations, technologies, and resource allocation within a challenging special event environment. The outcome relies more on consent than authority.

A CDHS education was helpful as it provided an opportunity for Jennings to more fully explore the security issues related to Special Events. In particular, her CHDS experience allowed Jennings to apply solutions in a complex real world environment.

“The world situation, the threat picture, is continually changing and is different for every event,” Jennings noted. “Securing Super Bowl 50 has required learning from past events while at the same time looking forward to emerging threats and tactics taking shape.   You must try to anticipate things that can happen from multiple different directions.”

Schoenthal plays at state, local level

Master’s degree alumna Lisa Schoenthal has the unique experience of assisting planning for two agencies, first with the California Emergency Medical Services Authority and then with the city of Santa Clara after she accepted a position there in December 2015.

As Chief of Disaster Medical Services with the State, Schoenthal convened Emergency Medical Services partners at the state, regional and local levels to prepare for the potential large-scale movement of patients should a catastrophic event occur.

Her new position in Santa Clara as the Coordinator of the Office of Emergency Services, involved preparing the City’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and conducting training on EOC operations for various department heads and City staff from finance to the city-owned electric utility. To achieve this, she condensed curriculum from the California Specialized Training Institute into three-and two-hour sessions and conducted Table Top Exercises prior to Game Day. The city’s EOC was responsible for the stadium as well as for the rest of the city before, during and after the game.

“The preparations for game day were extraordinary,” she recalled. “I wasn’t worried about things going awry at the game. My biggest concern was the sports bars and other soft targets that did not have the same level of security.”

On game day, Schoenthal led the city’s bunker-style EOC, which included 25 other mostly city employees as well as a county representative. A nearby Super Bowl EOC, where Flamm was stationed,worked closely with the City’s operation.

A CHDS education was helpful in the collaborating with assorted agencies, levels of government and professionals, she noted, and the alumni network proved its value. She knew Mata as he worked for another agency in the county. And, CHDS Academic Programs Director Chris Bellavita made virtual introductions to alumni in the area, such as Karimi, before she began her city job. The introductions provided an instant imprint of CHDS brand credibility, which was reinforced by seeing a slew of other CHDS graduates.

“Having fellow alumni sitting across the table was also useful in establishing instant credibility with peers,” Schoenthal said. “I think the overall experience of being in class with so many disciplines gives insight into the value of those disciplines and you gain the perspective of the other person’s world. I know my comfort level was significantly increased, there was a level of trust very quickly, because of that CHDS background.”

Schoenthal cited fellow alumni Dave Flamm and Vinny Mata as being especially helpful to making her role manageable since she started her job six weeks before Game Day.

Mata capitalized on organization, social media

With the events related to the big game encompassing the better part of the region, cities dotting the San Francisco Peninsula were crucial to enhancing safety in security.

For Lt. Vinny Mata, Coordinator of the adjacent city of Sunnyvale Office of Emergency Services, that meant sharing his department’s operation center practices with his neighbors.

“Levi’s Stadium is less than a mile from our border, so from the beginning we were involved in the event because there are things that affect our city, traffic being one of the main ones,” Mata said.

Federal, state and local K-9 teams train for Super Bowl 50.

Federal, state and local K-9 teams train for Super Bowl 50. Photo by LT. J.G. Evan Wilcox.

About two years ago, Mata’s office organized a departmental emergency operations center that monitors police and fire calls as well as social media and news organizations. The goal was countering inaccurate rumors and crafting authoritative messaging.

“We’ve been able to correct conversations and rumors that are out there, and we’ve managed to keep our population and the media informed,” Mata said.

His team put those social media skills to use weeks before the event, creating a Super Bowl Twitter account devoted to public safety that allowed messages and reminders to get pushed out to the public. The team also employed the Nixle public alert system for notifications.

So, Sunnyvale was well-positioned when the need arose for a Joint Information Center to host the operation. By game day, Mata was charged with co-managing the JIC while using the department’s existing monitoring plan.

In preparation, his job was to contact as many jurisdictions and organizations imaginable that may play a role in any type of catastrophic event to enlist them in the JIC or at least have their contact on standby.

“We ended up having contact with about 70 different organizations ranging from public safety to transportation, to local, state and the military,” Mata recalled. “We went operational for the JIC eight days out. The goal was to, if we had a big incident, to craft messages that were vetted by all the organizations involved and to have everybody on the same page. ”

The center conducted conference calls twice daily and by game day about 35 people staffed the center.

The CHDS education was particularly useful for working in the interagency, multi-disciplined environment of the JIC as was the CHDS curriculum that encourages students to continually question and evaluate their policies.

“Before, I kind of knew those things but CHDS classes make you unafraid to ask ‘why,’” Mata said. “That’s important because when you couple that with the emphasis on multiple layers of government and that all play a part in this thing we call homeland security. None of them is more important than the others. It would have been very easy to think that this is a law enforcement event. No, it’s everybody’s event. It’s everybody’s incident to work through because at any point any of those supposed outlier organizations could be the one that gets us out of a bind.”

Dombrowski anchors FEMA team

Executive Leaders Program graduate Justin Dombrowski led the Federal Emergency Management Agency in coordinating with other local, state and federal counterparts in planning and preparing for crisis management should a natural or human-caused disaster occur.

Firework display on the San Francisco Bay for Super Bowl 50

Super Bowl events occurred over the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Super Bowl City was open January 30 – February 7 with more than 60 performances on the Fan Stage, including several Grammy winning performers. Super Bowl City reported over 1 million visitors to the fan village over the week it was open. Photo by Jay Huang by flickr.com.

As FEMA Region IX Director of Response, he was a member of the Executive Steering Committee for the game and its related events that included a member deputized by DHS to develop crisis management.

“If there was a major disaster, FEMA would step up into a consequence management role to support the state and affected communities,” Dombrowski said. “We developed a consequence management plan, participated in SB50 planning work groups and provided team members and equipment during the events to be better positioned and prepared to support survivors quickly after an event.”

This westernmost FEMA region has experience with large events and had the benefit of working on the 2015 Super Bowl in Arizona. That allowed fostering relationships and pre-planning before tackling the 2016 game.

“We had the opportunity to have fact-to-face interaction while we were going through Super Bowl XLIX that played into lessons learned that were beneficial as we prepared for Super Bowl 50.”

Moreover, the region’s teams worked on planning for the 2011 Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Honolulu, which was classified as a National Security Special Event. And, even while planning for this year’s Super Bowl FEMA Region IX was charged with developing a consequence management plan and staff for the Rose Bowl Parade on New Year’s Day in Southern California as it was also designated a security event.

During this year’s big contest FEMA staff were at the coordination centers in two counties as well as the state operations center and FEMA’s own 24-hour watch center while teams were on alert if needed to respond quickly.

While terrorist acts are always a concern, the El Nino—driven weather in the winter was a chief concern as was the ever-present threat of earthquakes in California.

“We are always in earthquake season so there is always concern about that risk,” he said.

Similar to other CHDS education alumni, Dombrowski credited the ELP for cross-discipline learning with leaders in their respective fields.

“Learning and interaction at the ELP program crossed over into the kinds of discussions and relationship building that needs to occur for planning special events,” he said.

Bout gleans best practice from SB planning

If Danjel Bout felt unneeded on Super Bowl Sunday, that was a good thing.

The master’s degree alumnus is the Assistant Director of Response with the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and began his role about a year before the game by reaching out to local and federal partners.

“During the year we worked with subcommittees to ensure that Cal OES could broaden resources if we were needed,” Bout said. “We had capacity set up for the region.”

That meant monthly subcommittee meetings that increased in frequency to several per week as the day approached. From a state perspective, the primary concerns were the massive influx into the San Francisco area for the preliminary events and examining traffic to gauge how emergency managers could be deployed if needed. Planners were concerned how acts of civil disobedience, which had occurred at events in the city, would affect plans at the event.

“The concern was deliberate blocking of a major transportation artery,” he said. “That would desynchronize what we were doing. “

Given the multiple jurisdictions and thousands of people working at varied times at multiple sites, radio interoperability concerned planners. Nevertheless a potential best practice emerged from that challenge in the form of a digital coordination system.

“It pairs critical data and passes it to the affected community,” Boujt said. “With some systems you look at information linearly and don’t account for the fact that individual agencies have different priorities. This presents information horizontally.”

Working with CHDS peers provides an advantage during the planning process, Bout added.

“It’s especially beneficial in California where we have a robust mutual aid system,” he said. “It’s not just the system that is robust; it’s the relationships with responders. CHDS people can explain their policy roles. CHDS people question why we are doing what we’re doing. That helps me understand the roles of my counterparts and the constraints they have.”

Amtrak team rolls

With a station just across the street from Levi’s Stadium and hundreds of miles of tracks in Northern California, CHDS alumni who work for Amtrak optimized ongoing relationships with state and local peers as they prepared for the big day.

A trio of master’s degree graduates oversees Amtrak’s emergency management operations: Susan Reinertson, Chief, Emergency Management and Corporate Security; Jim Metzger, Deputy Chief, Emergency Management; Robert Giorgio, Emergency Operations Manager; and, Captain Jim Cook of Amtrak’s Criminal Intelligence Unit.

Coast Guard helicopter flies over San Francisco as part of Super Bowl 50 security. Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ada Stanton.

Coast Guard helicopter flies over San Francisco as part of Super Bowl 50 security. Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ada Stanton.

Amtrak had a lot of ground to defend. Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor runs 168 miles from Auburn, California, in the foothills of the Sierra to downtown San Jose and has the second largest ridership for the company, behind its busy Northeast Corridor. With that many jurisdictions to cross, Amtrak has interagency agreements with regional, municipal and county public safety agencies along the corridor and capitalized on those existing relationships.

The goal was ensuring both efficient operations while also monitoring intelligence for any disruptions requiring special attention.

“Our major concern was how we move people in a safe manner and efficiently managing how they leave in a safe way,” Metzger said. “When the event opens and when it closes, we make sure we have trains to get people to and from there.”

Amtrak supplemented its emergency operations with its Amtrak Ambassadors, which are trained employees who work large events and help customers with routine questions about tickets and directions and even administer first aid if needed.

Leveraging employees and the assets of partner agencies was something Metzger addressed in his CHDS master’s degree thesis, “Preventing Terrorist Bombings on United States Subway Systems.”

“Amtrak Ambassadors are a force multiplier both for law enforcement and emergency services on the scene,” he said.

The emergency and security planning process began about six months in advance of the game, Metzger noted, and part of the task was identifying which planning committees were appropriate for Amtrak to join. Company personnel participated in the varied Emergency Operations Centers and were able to tailor information that would need to be relayed to train operators and others off site. Amtrak officers were also concerned about “lone wolf” type of threats along their lines.

“Rather than focusing all of our energy on a large scale attack we are also focusing on ‘lone wolf’ threats as well as other smaller attacks targeting crowds,” Metzger noted. “This event may be happening at Levi’s Stadium, but it’s not in a vacuum.”

On game day Metzger worked at the local Amtrak command post and worked with Giorgio who was in Amtrak’s Consolidated National Operations Center in Wilmington, Delaware. Amtrak’s operations center focuses on daily operations but can also function as a sort of EOC.

The key factor to success was experience in working with homeland security partners who have different priorities, but the same goal of safety, much like the classroom at CHDS.

“The big part for us is understanding what each department or group brings to a situation and to leverage that for the goal,” Reinertson said. “You see that at CHDS. You have different opinions but everybody has the same goal. We’re all in this together. We have to maintain situational awareness and operational posture at Amtrak but we also understand the greater good and how we dovetail with other agencies to keeping people safe.”