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Super Bowl LV security tight amid political unrest, potential terrorism threats

Dozens of agencies prepared for 18 months
Posted at 4:10 PM, Feb 01, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — When fans pack into Raymond James Stadium on Sunday for the Super Bowl, dozens of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies will be working together on providing security.

The operation involves months of behind-the-scenes planning and the implementation of new technologies that can help keep fans safe.

Super Bowl signs surround the stadium. New fencing is going up around Tampa’s downtown and along nearly four miles of riverfront. And thousands of people are beginning to pour into Super Bowl-related events and venues.

“It’s an all hands on deck,” said Tampa Assistant Police Chief Ruben Delgado.

Law enforcement will be keeping an eye on everything from a special situation room inside Tampa Police headquarters.

”You can see behind me all the monitors there are,” said Delgado, pointing to a bank of monitors. “This just gives us an opportunity to see multiple vantage points of the city all at the same time. “

Delgado says hundreds of new high definition cameras offer real-time information

“You can see the quality change. It gets better every year,” he said.

The cameras allow officers from the situation room to zoom in on potential trouble and quickly deploy officers when they’re needed.

They also allow police to monitor traffic and pedestrian flow.

The Super Bowl is designated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a National Special Security Event.

“There’s multiple agencies at every level. Federal state and local level doing a multitude of things to make sure that this event’s safe,” Delgado said.

National Special Security Events include things like political conventions, inaugurations and Olympics games, which are considered potential terrorist targets.

“Really it is a signature event for America, so if you wanted to make a mark, that would be the place to do it,” said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.

She was the Assistant Police Chief the last time Tampa hosted a Super Bowl in 2009. She says agencies spent 18 months preparing.

“There’s up to 80 different agencies in there, so you have to ensure that everyone’s working together,” Castor said.

Law enforcement personnel have undergone active shooter training, practiced using horses to control crowds and learned how to identify trouble on the water.

“The cooperation is just unparalleled in these types of events,” said retired U.S. Secret Service Agent Gus Dimitrelos, who served as the Technical Security Infrastructure Coordinator for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

“Leading up to a Super Bowl or any major event, every agency is focused on the intelligence gathering, focusing on what a threat could be,” Dimitrelos said.

He says that’s vitally important when tensions are high, as they are now following an attack on the U.S. Capitol last month and after months of sometimes violent protests in cities throughout the United States.

“Our investigative agencies do a really good job of finding those coordinated events or groups that are planning something,” Dimitrelos said. “I think it’s the element of surprise that would cause a problem.”

Agencies are working now to reduce that possibility, from conducting fly-over radiation assessments which would help to identify a possible dirty bomb attack, to shutting down air traffic within 30 miles of Raymond James Stadium for more than six hours on Sunday.

"Airspace is hard to defend. It’s hard when you’re bringing an aircraft into that space to defend it,” said Dimitrelos.

Only about 22,000 fans will attend this year’s Super Bowl due to the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to 70,000 who attended in 2009.

“Same amount of work gets done. The venue has to stay a safe event, no matter if there’s a thousand people in those stands or 70,000 people in those stands,” said Delgado.

Even with all those preparations, police are calling on the public to be their eyes and ears and call 9-1-1 or using the new Safe Tampa App to report anything that seems out of place.

“The fact that we don’t have that many attacks on these major events really goes to show how important law enforcement is and what a great job they do,” said Dimitrelos.

“We have enough resources in place that we’ll make sure this is a safe event,” said Delgado.

The NFL has made additional information available to the public related to Super Bowl security.

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