A Multitude of Agencies Will Count on Uninterrupted Communication During Super Bowl LIII

Atlanta will reap the benefits of the Big Game and all that comes with added bandwidth to assure law enforcement will have sustained interoperability, even during a crisis.

by Jim McKay / February 1, 2019
Military-style helicopters move low over the Mercedes-Benz Stadium ahead of Super Bowl LIII, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, in Atlanta. AP/Mike Stewart

The anticipation is that Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta Sunday will go off without a major incident, but if there is a public safety event, the multitude of law enforcement agencies can be confident of continued communication.

“We are working with approximately 40 other agencies from the local, state, and federal level, and our goal is to keep the folks safe,” Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields told ESPN.com. “But in addition to what the human talent afforded us, we also are relying heavily on technology.”

An explosion of technology in the city, it is hoped, will afford those agencies continued, uninterrupted communication and give the city added bandwidth for years to come. Verizon has deployed $97 million in the city over the last two years to help the city prepare for the game, according to Michelle Kababik, director of Network Assurance for Verizon.

“We’ve installed more than 650 permanent solutions for our residents, visitors and the Super Bowl community, and the great thing about that is that it is permanent, and everybody is going to reap the benefits for years to come.”

Those solutions include 350 miles of fiber and “countless” new cell sites and permanent cell sites to offer the redundancy that may be needed during an event like the Super Bowl. Former New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said there are two capabilities needed for such an event from a law enforcement standpoint — pre-emption and prioritization.

“The idea is that almost a million people in and around the area will grab their smartphones if something happens and gobble up space, if you will, and public safety needs to understand that they’re going to have to function at their highest capacity, and to do that, they have to have uninterrupted capability, not only for voice but radio and video transmission,” Bratton said.

Bratton said there have been no specific threats toward the Super Bowl, but of course, law enforcement must be, as he said, prepared for the best and worst.

“Even in terms of if there are demonstrations, the ability to have assured communications in the area with so many agencies coming to the event is crucial,” he said. “Even as good as the Atlanta PD is, they don’t have the capacity to police the event without Fulton County and a myriad of agencies.”

It’s estimated that more than 5,000 law enforcement employees will be deployed for 12-hour shifts in and around Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The unified command and joint operation center was activated several days ago to get a rolling start into the game. The area around the stadium has been declared a drone-fee zone until after the game.

“In this type of event, everybody [law enforcement agencies] wants to be in the game and everybody needs to be in the game and to be able to talk to each other,” Bratton said.

Last year’s Super Bowl preparation in Minneapolis included the deployment of about 2,000 fixed cameras that beamed video back to about 50 video screens in the command center.

Like last year, Verizon has brought in mobile assets including cells on wheels and a big, red mobile command center, as large as a semi-truck. And like preparation for last year’s game, the various stakeholders have been going about preparing for two years.

“We’ve been at this for two years and we’ve done so much, coming from me and all the things that we’ve looked at, I feel like we’ve looked at every possibility,” Nick Annan, special agent in charge of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations in Georgia and the Carolinas, told ESPN.com.

“I feel like we have a plan in place for anything that could happen.”

And representatives from the next two Super Bowls will be in the command center Sunday to observe and get a feel for what’s to come.