Public Safety & Homeland Security

Keeping Minneapolis Safe on Super Bowl Sunday Is Two Years in the Making

As the threats evolve, so does the technology in large-scale public safety efforts.

by Jim McKay / February 2, 2018
A general, overall view of the exterior of U.S. Bank Stadium displaying Super Bowl LII logo signage prior to the upcoming NFL Super Bowl LII football game between the Philadelphia Eagles against the New England Patriots, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, in Minneapolis. AP/Scott Boehm

It may take all three phases of the game—offense, defense and special teams—to come up with a victory in the Super Bowl in Minneapolis on Sunday.

And for law enforcement and its partners, keeping the public safe too will require the coordination of a multitude of teams, three of which are aptly named, offense, defense and special teams. Preparation for ensuring the safety of those in and around U.S. Bank Stadium began around two years ago, and $612 million later, let the game begin the public safety community is ready.

“The average person on the street has no idea what goes on behind the scenes to keep them safe,” said former New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who was an integral part of security planning for the 2014 Super Bowl in New York and New Jersey and has acted as a consultant for Super Bowl LII.

“While they’re the game on the field, law enforcement and public safety are facing the other way, constantly scanning what threats and dangers might interrupt the peaceful viewing of that game.”

A lot has changed since the 2014 Super Bowl, both in terms of the threat and the advances in cellular and smartphone capacity. But the thrust of successful policing at an event like this one is basically the same — uninterrupted interoperability.

The Minneapolis Police Department and myriad other agencies, including the national guard and various federal agencies, will comprise the more than 2,000 law enforcement officers who will be patrolling in and around the stadium. Each will have a smartphone with an app that allows them to livestream video to the temporary command center. It is equipped also with GPS so that command can effectively know where the livestream is coming from.

Within the command center are two rooms that will house what Diana Scudder, Verizon’s vice president of networking, described as offense, defense and special-teams units. In one room is the system performance team that monitors data traffic as it moves throughout the network, and they call this team the offense. In the other room is the network assurance team, the defense, which addresses any problems the offense might find. These teams have direct lines to teams in the field, the special teams.

There are about 2,000 fixed cameras in the area, and Verizon brought in 20 more that can beam video back to one of the 50 or so video screens in the command center. Verizon also brought in 25 “temporary mobile assets,” which include cells on wheels (COW) and cells on light trucks (COLT).

To make sure it all works uninterruptedly, about 150 engineers worked for the last two years building 250 small cell solutions that sit inconspicuously atop street lights and also 25 permanent microsites. The small cell infrastructure, which boost capacity around the stadium by 1,000 square feet, will stay in the city as permanent infrastructure long after the game is over.

“The small cells offer redundancy, critical to officer safety,” Bratton said. “The last thing you need is when you need assistance, you can’t get a signal. That can’t happen.” The command center, which will house about 80 people during the game, is temporary and is backed up by a permanent command center should the temporary one fail.

During the regular football season, the command center was “activated” during Minnesota Vikings home games for table top drills, simulating power outages, evacuations and other potential problems. Scudder said the drills amounted to repetition of communication so that if something does occur on Super Bowl Sunday, the response will be second nature.

Though interoperability is a constant, the nature of the threat changes. Bratton pointed out that in just the last 15 months, there are new possibilities made evident by the gunman in Las Vegas, and the driver of a pickup truck that killed eight along a Hudson River bike path.

“It’s become increasingly complex and each event is different,” Bratton said. “It might look the same to the public, but the technology is different, and the threats are different.”