Originally created 01/20/99

Super Bowl security a top secret affair



MIAMI -- If all goes according to plan, the 75,000 fans attending the Super Bowl will have no idea that security personnel are in their midst, prepared for everything from pickpockets to terrorists.

At least that's the hope of officials charged with ensuring the safety of an estimated 150,000 visitors to this spotlight-hungry city already seasoned in putting out the welcome mat for seven Super Bowls and one World Series.

"Most of the public will never know what we did, but they will know that they enjoyed themselves and saw a good game," said FBI spokesman Mike Fabregas.

He declined to discuss the scope of the FBI's involvement or measures being taken to protect the crowds attending the Super Bowl on Jan. 31.

"Once you go into (discussing) your security detail, you don't have one," said Pete Abitante, NFL media relations director.

The FBI and Emergency Management Services are just a few of the 30 or so local, state and national agencies whose personnel are planning for every contingency and assessing all the "what if" scenarios. At least 327 officers, many undercover, will supplement 2,500 security guards specifically trained for game day.

Evacuation plans are being mapped out for Pro Player Stadium as well as routes to the nearest hospital or trauma center. A plan is in place in case an expectant mother goes into labor or a child gets lost. And there is no shortage of plans for calming overzealous fans or intoxicated revelers.

Security experts who were willing to discuss some plans and expectations for high-visibility events are not involved in the 1999 Super Bowl.

"It's a nightmare," said Reginald Rutherford, an operations manager for Don Cornelius Productions in California, whose security credits include the Academy Awards and the 1993 Super Bowl.

"You don't ever know if you're picking up a bomb or a briefcase that someone has lost," he said.

With more than 1.3 billion expected television viewers in 180 countries, the game attracts anyone seeking 15 minutes of infamy.

"It's a perfect venue to make a statement," said Lou Palumbo, a former law enforcement agent whose company, The Elite Group Ltd., works with the Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards and has handled soccer's World Cup.

Eric Knowles, director of community relations at the stadium, said that since Monday, visitors have needed an appointment to get past the front gates.

Security experts say it's the glitches -- insufficient batteries for communication equipment, personnel who don't show up on time -- that can ruin a foolproof plan.

"No matter what, there's always something last minute," said New Jersey-based security consultant Wendell Huggins.

But the challenge of the championship game is the length of the event and satellite festivities, such as the weeklong NFL experience and parties being held in Miami-Dade and surrounding counties.

"Whenever you bring 75,000 people together, you have concerns for their safety," said Wilfredo Alvarez, an executive on the Super Bowl host committee. "It's no different than (monitoring) the weather to make sure we're prepared for rain ... because those things will impact the event."

It's a much different picture this year than Alvarez's first Super Bowl in 1989, when race riots touched off by a deadly police shooting of a fleeing motorcyclist became a story for worldwide audiences during game week.

Authorities may have had the Super Bowl in mind when they swept into the mostly poor Liberty City neighborhood over the Christmas holidays in an effort to end two months of gang struggle for control of the drug trade. The crackdown resulted in the capture of a reputed gang leader believed to be at the center of the turf war that left 12 people dead since August.

Palumbo said the trick to carrying out a good security plan is detail and efficiency -- without turning the host city into a police state.

"It's an exercise in cerebral superiority," he said. "It's got nothing to do with muscle."



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