“Oh, we’re more than ready,” Shields said at a recent planning event. “We’ve been preparing for two years, and at this point we’re ready to just execute on our game plan.”
Learning from Minneapolis, Houston
After 10 days of Super Bowl frenzy wrapped up in February, the face of Minneapolis police returned home at 4 a.m. after the big game.
“My wife looked at me and said, ‘You can breathe,’” John Elder told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“No, not until we get these people out of this town,” Elder replied.
Elder, a licensed officer in Minnesota, serves as the director of public affairs for Minneapolis police and was part of countless meetings leading up to the 2018 game. According to the FBI, security efforts at the 2018 Super Bowl included the largest number of federal officers in the game’s 52-year history. No major security incidents were reported, according to Elder.
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“We did not have any of those ‘Oh drat!’ moments because we were willing to learn and really listen to other people to find out what works and what doesn’t work,” Elder said.
Besides visiting Minneapolis, Atlanta officers also visited 2017 Super Bowl host Houston, within weeks of Shields becoming chief.
“Our team came back from Houston and said, ‘We’re behind.’” Shields recalled. “I was about two months as a police chief, and I thought how can I be behind already and the Super Bowl is two years off?” Shields said.
It was time to kick planning into high gear, and APD joined various other law enforcement agencies — including the GBI, FBI, Homeland Security and World Congress Center police — to get going. Atlanta had previously hosted the Super Bowl in 1994 and 2000. But the 2019 game would literally be a whole new ballgame.
At an early December meeting hosted by the NFL, Atlanta’s Assistant Police Chief Rodney Bryant said it’s hard to compare current security challenges to those from nearly two decades ago.
“Reason being the world has changed,” Bryant said. “We see different threat levels. Our technology has changed, and so we’re here to see how well we are prepared to address today’s event.”
The field at MercedesBenz Stadium where Super Bowl LIII will be played on Sunday Feb. 3. Multiple public safety and law enforcement agencies have planned for the big day and events leading up to it. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
NFL pleased with preparations
In October, the team tasked with keeping Super Bowl crowds safe submitted its plan to the NFL. The collaboration between various agencies has been key, according to Amy Patterson, operations and logistics vice president for the Super Bowl Host Committee. Plus, Atlanta has hosted various other big events, including the recent SEC championship college football game. The first week of December, the NFL returned to town for a workshop to discuss a variety of “what if” scenarios. The event was closed to the public and the media.
“Suspicious packages, protests, it runs the gamut from the simple scenarios up to what happens if we have a mass casualty in the stadium,” Patterson said. “What’s exciting today is to see all the different agencies around the table together in the same room talking about how they partner and how they get through these issues and scenarios together as one team, not as individual agencies.”
So what about when it’s time for the real thing? Much of the security will be behind the scenes, according to law enforcement leaders. There will be one “ground zero” command center, along with 13 incident command centers around the city, meaning constant communication will be key.
Tens of thousands of people will descend on downtown Atlanta in just 66 days.
The Atlanta police department already has several security measures in place that can be utilized, including 200 cameras around the city and 100 “ShotSpotter” devices, which detect gunfire.
Also, a new cellphone app called “See Something, Send Something” allows users to instantly upload pictures or text anything suspicious to police. The app was implemented by the Georgia Department of Public Safety, along with the GBI and GEMA.
Law enforcement officers will be ready, Hacker said. But keeping the city and visitors safe will take more than just those in uniform.
“The eyes and ears of the public are so important… We really depend on the businesses. We depend on the private citizens. We depend on people seeing things on social media,” Hacker said. “We depend on anybody that sees anything that just doesn’t seem right. We depend on them to let us know.”
The time spent planning will pay off, Elder said. His advice to his Atlanta law enforcement counterparts is simple: “Have fun and enjoy it.”
“I know they’ll be on their toes,” Elder said. “It will be great.”
SEE SOMETHING, SEND SOMETHING
See something suspicious and want to let police know? There’s an app for that.
The Georgia Department of Public Safety, along with the GBI, and the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency this year implemented the “See Something, Send Something” system in Georgia. Information such as photos and text can be sent over the app and will then be reviewed by law enforcement.
“See Something, Send Something” can be downloaded for free from iTunes or Google Play.