The Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications convened a hearing at NJIT at the request of Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th District), its ranking Democrat, to examine security measures taken for the 2014 Super Bowl.
The two-years of security preparations leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in February involved an unprecedented multi-tiered effort that should serve as a model for coordination at other large events and gatherings, security experts and federal lawmakers concluded during a hearing of a Congressional homeland security panel in Newark today.
"Communication is the key," said Fred Roberts, director of the Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence at Rutgers University, which has developed a pamphlet on large-event security.
Roberts was testifying today before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications. The subcommittee convened the hearing at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, at the request of Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th District), its ranking Democrat and New Jersey's only representative on the Homeland Security Committee.
Officials said there were no security breaches during the Feb. 2 NFL championship game, attended by 82,529 fans at the stadium in East Rutherford, where an abundance of state troopers were among the visible precautions, tailgating was prohibited, and a temporary no-fly zone was established in the skies above the stadium.
Payne and the subcommittee chairwoman, Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Indiana), said the purpose of the hearing was to learn about the security preparations for the sake of future policy and spending decisions.
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9th District), a former Homeland Security Committee member, also attended the hearing, and at one point asked witnesses to rate the level of communication among agencies on a scale of 1 to 5.
"In my experience, it was a five," responded Andrew McLees, a special agent in charge in the Department of Homeland Security, whose response was echoed by fellow witnesses. McLees, who acted as the department's coordinating officer for Super Bowl XLVIII, said 35 federal agencies and a total of more than 100 agencies from all levels of government played a role in securing the game -- even if the Broncos could not. (Denver was routed by the Seattle Seahawks, 43-8.)
In an interview later, McLees said he could not think of a single event that involved more agencies, and credited strong interpersonal relationships among agency officials as part of the successful effort. In terms of technology, McLees attributed the high-level of communication to, "putting the frequency sharing system on steroids," though he hastily added, "I don't think the NFL likes that word."
Coincidentally, security preparations for the first-ever Super Bowl at the home of the Jets and Giants began with Super Bowl XLVI, when the Giants beat the Patriots 21-17 in 2012 at LukeOil Stadium in Indianapolis, said Lt. Col. Edward Cetnar of the New Jersey State Police. Cetnar said members of security subcommittees composed of representatives of State Police, NYPD, FBI and other law enforcement officers and agents were sent to study preparations at that game.
Cetnar said the 28 subcommittees were formed to address various aspects of securing the game, including Inter-agency communication, aviation, VIP escort, and explosive device & hazardous material mitigation. Subcommittee members also went to Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans (Ravens over 49ers, 34-31).
"The New Jersey State Police executed a plan to secure Super Bowl XLVIII using an air, land and sea concept," Cetnar told the panel. "This approach was the most aggressive security plan ever executed at an NFL Super Bowl."
One advantage that law enforcement agencies had going into the game was MetLife Stadium's certification last December as the first stadium in the country to meet Department of Homeland Security standards, based on a lengthy security plan submitted to the agency. The stadium's security director, Daniel DeLorenzi, a former Newark Police deputy chief, attributed part of stadium's secure environment to the training and commitment of its largely part-time civilian security staff.
At one point Brooks asked witnesses how information they routinely share information about security for large events. Dan Grossi, director of event security for the National Football League,assured her that his office communicates best practices regularly with NFL stadiums around the country, as well as with other professional sports, including Major League Baseball.
DeLorenzi said he attends forums hosted regularly by the University of Southern Mississippi, where he is in contact with counterparts from other venues and organizations.
The hearing did not address security costs, though Payne later said the sharing of information is a way to insure that the most efficient, most effective security practices are promulgated.
The State Police reported in March that it had spent $5.26 million to secure the game, though $462,410 of that was picked up by federal taxpayers in the form of an overtime grant.
Payne and Pascrell said they had never heard an overall figure quoted for the total cost of securing Super Bowl XLVIII, including local, state and federal expenses.
Pasrcrell said cost was a particular concern for host communities, who are sometimes left with an extraordinary police overtime bill that is not offset by the commercial benefits promised by organizers. And while he acknowledged that it is difficult to put a price on life-and death measures, Pascrell said security is like other functions of government that must be budgeted in conjunction with other demands.
Quoting Jackie Gleason's comedic television anti-hero, Pascrell said, "Like Ralph Kramden used to say, somebody's got to pay for it."