Federal air marshals, cyber security experts and thousands of law enforcement and security agents have descended on Phoenix in advance of Super Bowl XLIX, trying to protect the event and a crush of fans that already has knotted traffic amid pre-game festivities.
The government is blitzing the area in ways that would overwhelm even a fleet-footed quarterback.
Amid dual terrorist threats from the Islamic State and al-Qaida, either of which is perceived to be eager to spoil one of the nation’s premier sporting events, federal agencies are deploying to Arizona equipment to detect biological weapons, “dirty bombs” and other radiological and nuclear devices.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has trained 85 Arizona responders for mass casualty incidents. The Department of Homeland Security is providing security assessments and training to state and local law enforcement, local hotels and others in identifying and responding to potential risks.
Officers of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency are scanning all cargo entering the stadium for contraband such as narcotics, weapons and explosives.
And, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced in Arizona Wednesday the re-launch of the department’s, “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign to raise public awareness.
The message has been posted at hotels, on buses, on billboards, in magazines and visitor guides. And people in Arizona using smart phones to play video games using the Game Day or NFL Experience mobile applications may see the campaign slogan flashing across their screens to remind them to watch out for suspicious activity and backpacks or bags left in crowded areas.
“Whether you are on the plains of Iowa, the streets of Manhattan or a fan at the Super Bowl, we all play a role in keeping our neighborhoods and communities safe,” Johnson said. He called the public awareness campaign “a critical part of our efforts to ensure the safety of every employee, player and fan” during the National Football League’s championship game.
The security forces, however, are facing a huge challenge due to the surge of visitors clogging the streets. The traffic has been snarled so badly that NFL officials have offered irritated commuters free passes to participate in a cordoned section where fans get to enjoy an “NFL Experience.” Autograph seekers can connect with former NFL stars, and fans who wonder how their skills might match up to those of pro football players can be clocked in the 40-yard dash or try to pass a football as accurately as Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.
Law enforcement also is monitoring the event for the usual illegalities surrounding Super Bowls.
For example, as part of a crackdown on intellectual property theft, officers of Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have targeted vendors peddling counterfeit sportswear and other goods. Some officers are undercover posing as buyers, and the feds already have busted some peddlers of “knockoff” jerseys and other Super Bowl momentos, said a federal law enforcement official who lacked authorization to speak for the record.
If all the effort pays off, the biggest commotion on Sunday night will occur on the field -- during the halftime show.