Behind the glamour, fanfare and excitement of the first Super Bowl to be played in New Jersey stands one of the largest coordinated law enforcement efforts ever assembled in the region to ensure that nothing — not a terrorist, a shooter or a bomber — disrupts the fans’ experience.
Some 100 law enforcement agencies have been working for two years to develop a comprehensive security plan for the game, which will draw an estimated 80,000 fans to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford next Sunday.
Officials said several factors made Super Bowl XLVIII unique from a security standpoint, much like the fact that it will be the first one played outdoors in a cold-weather arena.
Working to their advantage, authorities say, is the isolated and remote location of the stadium. Because most spectators will arrive by train or bus at what’s being billed as the first mass-transit Super Bowl, authorities say they can better control who is entering and leaving the stadium.
By the same token, the fact that associated events are spread between two states forces security officials to extend their area of scrutiny.
“Next to a presidential swearing in, this is a premier event on that level,” said James O’Connor, a homeland security consultant and state police security instructor who has trained about 500 guards for the event.
The Big Game has brought together agencies ranging from the FBI to the East Rutherford Police Department; from the Coast Guard to the New York City Police Department.
And, authorities say, a key to their extensive preparations — learned from the lessons of past Super Bowls as well as from terrorist events such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the 9/11 attacks — is an enhanced level of information sharing and collaboration among all levels of government that didn’t exist before 9/11. Col. Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, called the change revolutionary.
“We’ve trained on this from A to Z and we’re probably as prepared as any venue could be, but we realize that the stakes are very high,” he said.
‘A whole new era’
After 9/11, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security designated Super Bowls “Level One” events, which means that they are targets for terrorism and that federal authorities are involved in security plans.
“A whole new era has developed since Sept. 11,” said U.S. Rep. Peter King, chairman of the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee for the Committee on Homeland Security. “In addition to that, New York and northern New Jersey are the number-one terrorist targets in the country.”
Security costs are being absorbed by the various public agencies involved, while the National Football League will spend between $10 million and $11 million of its own on security operations, employing an estimated 3,000 civilian security professionals at the stadium on game day. State police officials said they did not yet have a total budget figure but said regular pay, not overtime, would be issued to troopers on game day to minimize costs.
“No one attending this great American event should have to worry about anything other than whether or not their favorite team will win,” said Aaron Ford, special agent in charge for the FBI’s Newark office.
Much of the security measures undertaken by authorities have been kept under wraps, but the agencies have revealed some details.
The FBI has said its primary role is to thwart a terrorist event such as an active shooter, bomber, or biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear threat, Ford said. The agency will oversee a joint-operations center at an undisclosed location that will serve as an interagency command post for responses to credible terrorist threats. The center, which is activated one week before the game, operates 24 hours a day and involves federal, state and local authorities gathering intelligence to identify possible threats.
“If the intelligence received requires the FBI to become operational, all assets and partners are already in one place,” Ford said. “There are dozens of computer workstations for each agency and numerous wall monitors displaying surveillance cameras at various venues throughout the state.”
The Federal Aviation Administration also plans to establish temporary flight restrictions over the stadium from noon until one hour after the game ends. Flights by media, banner planes, blimps and general aviation are prohibited from entering the airspace.
Fuentes said his agency would deploy between 500 and 700 troopers to the stadium on game day, and will have helicopters aloft and boats patrolling the Hackensack and Hudson rivers. He noted that troopers who normally patrol the state’s highways will remain on those duties.
There are currently no credible terrorist threats, Fuentes said. The greatest concern facing authorities is an active shooter or homegrown violent extremist who is not affiliated with any group, Fuentes said.
Super Bowl security differs from an event like the Boston Marathon in that it’s centralized in one location, as opposed to a race that winds through city streets, which greatly complicates crowd control.
And unlike previous championship games where stadiums were easily accessible from nearby hotels, most of the fans for this game will be arriving either by NJ Transit train from the Secaucus Junction station or bus. No taxis are permitted and only 12,000 parking spots are available via passes purchased in advance. The 16,000 other spots typically available on game day are being taken up by welcome pavilions where fans will be screened and by a perimeter fence around the stadium that has been extended from 100 to 300 feet.
Tailgating is also limited to the space in each spot and grills are prohibited.
By early Monday morning, each of the buildings in the 750-acre Meadowlands Sports Complex will be shut down, with no public access for the entire week before the game.
At the same time, though, the reliance on mass transit presents a whole new set of security challenges, King and O’Connor said.
While the stadium is a primary terrorism target, secondary targets such as train stations or other mass-transit hubs are realities. Airports must also be monitored, O’Connor said.
But Fuentes said all of the agencies were aware that “security doesn’t end at the property line at the Meadowlands complex”; it extends to the tunnel crossings into New York, the waterways, highways and railways.
Out of sight
In the days leading up to the game, security will also be tight in Jersey City, where the teams are staying, and for the more than 26 events scheduled in Manhattan. The largest event there is “Super Bowl Boulevard,” a 13-block stretch of Broadway in midtown that will feature autograph sessions, concerts and family friendly fare such as a giant toboggan run.
“There will be a lot of things that will be visible to the eye,” said New York Police Department Chief James Waters. “There will be a robust police presence in the street to assist with traffic, and there will be a robust counter-terrorism overlay out in the street with [explosion detection] K-9 dogs and our cameras and sensors we have in place.”
That, of course, is in addition to law enforcement activity taking place behind the scenes, which authorities declined to discuss in any detail.
In preparation for their role, Jersey City public safety and emergency management officials last week held a preparedness exercise where a series of hypothetical situations were debated. The sobering scenarios ranged from a possible threat to one of the hotels where the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks plan to stay, to a chemical attack at a nearby mall, to a suspect being shot and killed, and to a city police officer being slain upon entering a hotel room near the Holland Tunnel.
“It’s obviously scary and it’s obviously something to be concerned about, but we definitely have the resources from the city’s standpoint to deal with this sort of thing, and we’re doing everything possible to make sure that everything is coordinated,” said Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.
Staff Writer John Brennan contributed to this article.