January 31, 2014

TSG IntelBrief: The Super Bowl and Sochi Olympics: Security Comparisons & Contrasts

• Two of the most watched sporting events in the world will occur over the next two weeks: the US National Football League Super Bowl and the Sochi Winter Olympic Games

• Cold weather venues and large scale use of public transport will present additional challenges to the respective massive security plans

• The security apparatus for the one-day event Super Bowl venue is well honed and tested in contrast to the over two weeks of events at the Sochi Olympics.

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Over three billion people will watch on television in the next weeks two of the three most viewed sporting events in the world. On February 2, Super Bowl XLVIII will be held in MetLife Stadium, New Jersey, and on February 7, the XXII Winter Olympic Games will commence with Opening Ceremonies in Sochi, Russia.

Traditionally, the US National Football League (NFL) doesn’t award Super Bowls to stadiums located in climates with an expected average daily temperature less than 50°F (10°C) on game day unless the field can be completely covered by fixed or retractable roof. Four Super Bowls have been played in northern cities: two in the Detroit area, one in Minneapolis, and two years ago in Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI. All of these stadiums have a roof. However, despite not having a retractable roof, MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey was chosen for Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday, in an apparent waiver of the warm-climate game condition rule.

To the casual observer, the potential cold game day environment will have little impact on an event that averages over 100 million viewers in the US alone. This puts the Super Bowl in an exclusive category of most watched television broadcasts along with the FIFA World Cup Soccer Tournament and the Olympic Games. It’s important to note the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics span over two weeks of broadcasts, unlike the Super Bowl that is a three to four hour, single duration show, though with large events in the local area for the lead up to the game. In the highly populated and tourist-heavy area of nearby New York City, crowds for this year’s Super Bowl events will be among the largest ever.

In addition to Super Bowl XLVIII, the sports world is preparing for the XXII Winter Olympics scheduled February 7 to 23, in Sochi, Russia. In comparison, the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics are iconic events that offer an attractive platform for terrorists to act in order to exploit the massive audience and draw attention to their radical ideology. Both events will undoubtedly have in attendance significant numbers of VIPs and dignitaries.

Unlike previous Super Bowls, the security apparatus this year will be potentially tested with exposure to cold and inclement weather. This is nothing new for security procedures at the Winter Olympics, with multiple open air venues. Ironically, the challenge in Sochi will be the threat of warm temperatures characteristic of this southern Russian resort town bordering the Black Sea. Sochi will be the first Winter Olympic Games held in a subtropical climate. Nevertheless, the Winter Games pose significant added challenges in comparison to the Summer Olympic Games in regard to heavy clothing—natural and plausible concealment—and the impact on security access control procedures.

With the Super Bowl, extraordinary search procedures will need to be implemented to address the bulky and layered clothing worn by attendees. Additionally, due to the fact that 30,000 people are expected to use buses or trains to travel to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford where the Super Bowl will be played, security augmentations will be implemented for the mass transport system supporting the event. An amplified concern applies to Sochi as public transport is the preferred travel option to Olympic events, and Chechen separatists have targeted the transportation sector in previous attacks.

Though Russian Winter Olympic authorities continue to face the challenge of terrorism posed by the North Caucasus insurgency, this threat is by no means new to the Russian security services. The Chechen separatist group responsible for the recent bombings in Volgograd, Russia, and the specific announced threats to attack the Games is not a recent problem. This violent extremist element was responsible for several attacks over a span of 12 years and more than 1000 victims. This threat has escalated in recent weeks with suicide bombings in Volgograd, a major transportation hub for travel to Sochi. In response, Russian authorities have introduced some of the most extensive identity checks and sweeping security measures ever seen at an international sports event. Anyone wanting to attend the games will be required by event organizers to buy a ticket online and obtain a spectator pass to gain access. This requirement will provide authorities with details that facilitate their screening of all visitors and checking identities upon arrival.

The security zone created around Sochi stretches approximately 100 kilometers along the Black Sea coast and up to 40 kilometers inland. Russian security forces include special troops to patrol the mountains adjacent to the Olympic resort, aerial drones to keep constant watch over Olympic facilities and speed boats to patrol the coastline.

For both Super Bowl XLVIII and the XXII Winter Olympics, access control is the key ingredient that must be strictly adhered to in order for any security plan to work efficiently. This requires well trained personnel as well as security protocols that have been tested through exercises and drills. If just one usher decides to “wave through” a friend of a friend, the entire security apparatus is compromised. Discipline and strict adherence to the plan is critical in minimizing threats to the event.

MetLife Stadium is a state of the art facility with the capacity to seat over 82,000 spectators. The stadium opened its doors in 2010, and since then has hosted 20 NFL games per season. This has allowed the MetLife facility managers the opportunity to fine tune and firmly establish a security plan. In comparison, the paint is literally drying on the newly built Olympic venue sites and the ability to carry out security procedures in Sochi has not been tested and evaluated. This critical requirement certainly poses a concern for the ability of the Russians to ensure that their security screening apparatus is working, and working well. In addition to the access control concerns, the ability to respond efficiently and effectively to a critical incident during the Games is suspect. The security infrastructure from a protective and response perspective is well trained at MetLife Stadium and has rehearsed this capability more than 60 times over the last four years.

With Super Bowl XLVIII approaching, most will tune into the game to see which team becomes US football champion. For those in the business of securing major sporting events, a great sigh of relief will occur when the game ends without incident and the security baton is passed to the next major event, the XXII Winter Olympics in Sochi.



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