SEC Championship game a warm-up drill for police before Super Bowl kickoff

The SEC championship logo is displayed on the field of Mercedes Benz Stadium, Friday, November 30, 2018. Georgia will play the Alabama in the 2018 SEC Championship game on Saturday.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The SEC championship logo is displayed on the field of Mercedes Benz Stadium, Friday, November 30, 2018. Georgia will play the Alabama in the 2018 SEC Championship game on Saturday.

It isn’t the Super Bowl.

But with exactly two months to go until the NFL’s biggest game kicks off in Atlanta, Saturday’s Southeastern Conference Championship football game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will offer police a pre-game drill: a chance to test security measures long before the real deal. The 4 p.m., sold-out matchup between old-school rivals Georgia and Alabama is just one of many events expected to bring 400,000 people into the city. And that’s just fine with Atlanta police — the busy weekend provides more practice leading up to the big game.

“A lot of the things that we’re going to be doing for the Super Bowl, we already do,” Deputy Chief Scott Kreher said. “So this gives us an opportunity to continue to hone our skills for these big events that we have almost every weekend in this city. We’re going to use (the game as a test) for the Super Bowl to make that plan even stronger.”

Kreher will serve as the unified area commander for the Super Bowl, meaning he’s the top guy for the security team that will also include state and local police. Earlier this week, the NFL approved the multi-agency safety plan for Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3, and the days of events leading up to the game.

Tens of thousands of people will descend on downtown Atlanta in just 66 days.

“We’re accustomed to major events. The Super Bowl is on another level all together,” Atlanta police spokesman Carlos Campos said Friday. “But every major event that we handle, whether it’s the Peachtree Road Race or DragonCon, all of those major events give us an opportunity to assess and evaluate where we’re at with regard to security.”

Extra officers, including those who normally have administrative duties, will be on duty all weekend, Campos said. Other units, including motorcycle officers and SWAT teams, will also assist with security, he said.

On Saturday for the SEC Championship game — just like for the Super Bowl — the Atlanta police department will be home to the public safety headquarters, where dozens of officers will monitor the city. The Joint Operations Center will be home base Saturday for other agencies, including the GBI, FBI and Georgia World Congress Center police, Campos said.

“We’ll have people on the ground ready to respond to any event that might need our assistance, to include a crisis management coordinator, special event coordinator and intelligence analyst,” FBI spokesman Kevin Rowson said.

S.A.F.E. security officer Eddie Clark surveys the 200 level of Mercedes Benz Stadium a day before the SEC Championship football game in Atlanta on Friday.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Inside the Joint Operations center on Saturday, officers will have access to more than 10,000 public and private sector video cameras: extra eyes to keep watch over the city.

But the Super Bowl isn’t just one event. It’s a week of events, including various concerts and other fan events.

Traffic is among the biggest concerns, and police are working with MARTA and ride-share companies for alternative pickup and drop-off plans. But Kreher says the city’s security plans are ahead of schedule, and he’s confidant the city will be ready come February.

“I know we have a good team in place, and I know we have a good plan. So we’ll be ready,” Kreher said.”I think we’re ahead of the game, literally, probably weeks ahead of where they thought we should be.”

According to the FBI, two years of planning took place before February’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis. Nearly 2,000 federal agents were in town to assist local and state officers with events leading up to the game between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.